Perhaps no United States Supreme Court case has invaded popular culture so deeply as Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). These days, a perp doesn’t get led off screen without a recitation of those iconic words: “You have the right to remain silent.”
But the real case began when Arizona police arrested Ernesto Miranda and took him into custody. No one advised Miranda that he had a right to counsel. During intense questioning, Miranda confessed. Miranda was then convicted of kidnapping and rape.
The Supreme Court accepted Miranda’s case, and three others like it, to determine what procedural safeguards were required to protect the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The Court concluded that for statements made during custodial interrogation to be admissible at trial, warnings related to the accused’s right to remain silent and the right to counsel had to be provided.
Chief Justice Warren, writing for a five-justice majority, focused on the inherently coercive nature of custodial interrogation. Under the stress of police questioning, there is a great potential for intimidation. This poses a danger to individual liberties, making procedural safeguards necessary.
At the time, the decision was controversial. President Richard Nixon took up the cause of reversing Miranda as part of his presidential campaign. Nevertheless, to this day Miranda remains one of the strongest and most recognizable protections of the individual rights of the accused in the American legal system.
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