Miranda Rights – II: Miranda’s Misfortune Crime File

The officers brought the teenager into the doorway and asked Ernesto if she was the girl he had raped. Ernesto believed that the girl had already identified him at the line-up. “That’s the girl,” Miranda said.

Once the girl left, the officer asked Ernesto to write his confession on a sheet of paper at the top of which was the disclaimer that the suspect was making the statement voluntarily and that he understood his rights even though the rights were not mentioned on the paper. Ernesto wrote his confession, which checked out many of the specific details that the girl had given to the police regarding the crime.

It took all of three hours to extract a confession out of Ernesto Miranda, and the police had their man within 10 days of the crime. At that point they did not know that the confession they had extracted would go all the way to the US Supreme Court to become part of the constitutional history of the nation.

Ernesto’s trial was not complicated in the least. The prosecution witnesses included the teenaged victim, her sister, the officers Cooley and Young and the only piece of evidence entered as evidence was the Miranda’s own confession. Ernesto Miranda was being defended by a court appointed 73-year-old, seasoned lawyer, Alvin Moore, who had enormous experience in criminal law and had got himself only a month ago on the list of the attorneys willing to represent indigent clients for a fee of $100. Moore intended to lead no evidence in favour of Miranda from his side and felt that the key to the trial was the inadmissibility of Miranda’s confession, which was forced and was, therefore, unconstitutionally begotten.

Ernesto’s past record convinced Moore that insanity was a viable defense and he filed a notice to that effect a day before the case went on trial. For the next few weeks, Miranda met several psychiatrists for both the defense as well as the state, and they told the psychiatrists told the court that Miranda was fit to stand trial even though he was mentally abnormal, for he could understand the charges, the implications of the trial and a court verdict against him and was also capable of assisting in his defense. In view of the psychiatric opinion, Moore decided to drop insanity as defense. The trial was slated to commence  in mid-June 1963.

The teenaged victim was the first to take the stand for the prosecution and stated what had happened on the night of the assault taking several breaks to gain composure.

The next was officer Cooley, and when the prosecution attempted to enter Ernesto’s confession in evidence, it was vigorously resisted to by Moore, who argued that the confession was forced and was obtained in clear violation of the Fifth Amendment, and was, therefore, inadmissible. When Cooley was questioned by Moore over the manner in which the confession was obtained, the officer said that there was a paragraph at the top of the sheet given to Miranda to write his confession on, and the paragraph was read out aloud to him. Prodded by Moore, the officer admitted that it was not their practice to advice their arrestees that they were entitled to a lawyer before making a statement. However, despite a vehement objection by Moore, Maricopa Superior Court Judge Yale McFate overruled the objection, and the confession was admitted in evidence and jury was allowed to hear the  confession of Ernesto Miranda. The jury did not long to find Miranda guilty of both rape and kidnapping and was sentenced to 20 and 30 years of imprisonment on the two charges. The sentences were to run concurrently.

Moore appealed the case before the Arizona Supreme Court because he believed that the judge had erred in allowing the confession to be taken on record and was of the opinion that shorn of the confession, the prosecution had no case against Miranda because he had been able to demonstrate reasonable doubt with regard to the ingredients of the crime Miranda was charged with. The law regarding rape in Arizona then required that the victim should have resisted to the attack, which the girl admittedly hadn’t done in Miranda’s case.

The legal issues to be decided by the Arizona Supreme Court were: Whether the confession by the accused voluntarily made? Was the Appellant (a Mexican boy of limited education) afforded all constitutional safeguards to his rights under the Constitution of the United States and the laws and the rules of the courts?

It took some 18 months for the case to come up for hearing before the Arizona Supreme Court, and by then the U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled in Escobedo v. Illinois that the suspect was entitled to have a lawyer present at the time of being questioned by the police. The Supreme Court had ruled that when the police were done with the general inquiry into an unsolved crime and were questioning a particular suspect in connection with the crime, a refusal to consult an attorney and failing to inform the suspect of his or her constitutional right to remain silent amounts to the violation of the Sixth Amendment.

However, Arizona Supreme Court interpreted the Escobedo ruling strictly, and held that Miranda’s case did not fall in the category of cases covered by Escobedo judgment of the US Supreme Court. The Arizona Supreme Court opined that for Escobedo to apply the following conditions must be met: An investigation focusing on a particular suspect; the suspect must be in custody; the suspect must have requested for and must have been denied an opportunity to consult with a lawyer; the suspect must not have been effectively warned about his right to remain silent; and an incriminating statement must have been obtained from the suspect. The Court ruled that since Miranda had not asked for a lawyer and, therefore, there was no occasion for his being denied the assistance of an attorney, the case did not fall in the ambit of Escobedo, and Miranda’s confession was, thus, voluntary and there was no violation of the constitutional rights rendering the confession inadmissible.

There was a general confusion regarding the meaning of Escobedo v. Illinois and there were several conflicting interpretations of the judgment across the country. And it was clear that the US Supreme Court would have to revisit the decision and clarify the position of law in this regard. Miranda v. Arizona reached the US Supreme Court on the issue.

Many civil rights and law enforcement organizations filed amicus briefs for including American Civil Liberties Union, National District Attorneys Association and the National Association of State Attorneys General, and the bunch ran into some 700 pages, and on February 28, 1966, the nine justices of the US Supreme Court heard the oral arguments in Miranda v Arizona. John Flynn argued the case for Ernesto Miranda frequently diverting from his prepared arguments to field questions fired at him by the robed justices sitting high above, and closed his arguments by calling upon the Court to move at its fastest to set out the rules for custodial questioning.

Due to the four other cases clubbed with Miranda and a good number of amicus briefs tagged with it, another day of oral argument was given to the case on March 1, 1966, and the justices delved deeper into the Fifth Amendment rights, which indicated that it was not going to be a smooth sail for the state and there might be some relief in the offing for Ernesto Miranda, who was awaiting the verdict in a prison cell. The arguments finally came to a close and it was wait time while the justices debated the issue among themselves before pronouncing a verdict. It could take a few months.

A liberal Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren and speaking through him, pronounced the judgment in Miranda v. Arizona on June 13, 1966 putting its seal on what are now called Miranda Rights or Miranda Warnings. The Supreme Court stipulated that the prosecution cannot use any statement made, exculpatory or inculpatory, by the accused while he accused was in custody or had been otherwise deprived of his freedom of action unless it is amply shown that the procedural safeguards ensuring that the prisoner is aware of and understands his or her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Miranda Warnings were thus created.

The verdict required the enforcement official arresting a suspect to inform the arrestee or arrestees of their right to remain silent, to have an attorney present during the time of question, which could be provided free of charge by the state if the arrestee in question could not afford one, and that anything they say or do could be and would be used against them. If the officials failed to bring the constitutional guarantees under the Fifth Amendment to the notice of the arrestee, they could not use anything incriminating uttered by the person in evidence against him.

Miranda thought, and so did his family, that he could now be let out, which wasn’t to be, for he still had to serve his sentence for robbery, and to add to his miseries the state sought to retry Miranda without the confession. And by that time Miranda had already shot himself in the foot by confessing the crime to his common-law wife, who he was suing to get the custody of their daughter, and who had been further angered by the fact that Miranda had asked her to propose the teenage victim to drop the charges against him in exchange of which he was ready to marry her.

There was only a short constitutional question as to whether the testimony of a common-law wife could be admitted in evidence against the husband. The question was answered against Miranda when, after having reached all the way back to the US Supreme Court, the Apex Court declined to hear the issue, which led to the conviction of Miranda a second time, and he was re-sentenced to  20 to 30 years in prison.

The US Congress was not happy with the Miranda decision, and enacted Section 3501 of the federal criminal law code in 1968 to reverse the Miranda judgment requiring the courts to decide in each case as to whether or not the confession was forced or voluntary. However, the provision has almost never been used by the authorities to sidestep Miranda Warnings. Reading out the rights is preferred over keeping them a ‘secret’. However, in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, after hearing arguments in Dickerson v. United States declined to strike down the Miranda ruling.

On the other hand, Ernesto Miranda served one-third of his sentence, and was granted parole in December 1972, but he went back to his former lifestyle replete with run-in with the police, and when he was arrested for the possession of a gun, he ended up violating his parole conditions although charges were not pressed. He was sent back to do another year at Arizona State Prison, after which he was released.

On the night of January, 1976, a 36-year-old Miranda fought over a game of poker and was stabbed to death by an illegal Mexican immigrant. Although the culprit could not be brought to justice, one of the suspects was arrested. And in all probability his rights were read out to him. The Miranda Rights.

Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE  as the final part of a two-part CRIME FILE in October 2015.


Comments

  1. Astha Kaushik Says: August 8, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    Very informative article. Although, I knew about “Miranda Rights” since it is a term often heard during criminal law lectures, but the history of this case was never discussed in the class or elsewhere.
    Thanks for such a wonderful piece of information.
    🙂

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