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May 22, 2020

Using Supreme Court Cases and Primary Sources as Narrative in the Social Studies Classroom

by Jen Reidel

Raymond and Keith Haynes, unemployed and far from model citizens, sat in the Gay Tavern in Spokane, Washington, drinking from early morning until late evening on December 19, 1957. Their conversation and decision to rob a gas station, as well as Raymond’s subsequent treatment by the Spokane Police Department, would ultimately become legal history in the landmark case, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).  The experience and flagrant disregard of Haynes’ right against self-incrimination and outright denial of counsel while in custody by the Spokane Police, helped convince a majority on the Supreme Court, a month after the unanimous Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) , requiring any suspect in detention the right to counsel, and three years before Miranda, of the need for greater protections of the accused both in the squad car and at the station house. Raymond Haynes’ story and journey to the Supreme Court in U.S. Reports: Haynes v. Washington, 373 U.S. 503 (1963) serves as a compelling narrative to introduce students to the rights of the accused, state sovereignty, influence of historical context upon legal interpretation, and the evolution of Supreme Court doctrine over time.

After arrest for robbing a gas station and stealing $66.80, court documents indicate that Raymond Haynes confessed to the crime without any warning of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent or  extension of the privilege of the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee to counsel,  and said to the arresting officer “you got me, let’s go.” Haynes spent between five and seven days at the Spokane Police Department (SPD). The records of the SPD were so poorly kept, not even the department itself at trial could determine how long he had been held.  Upon his request to call his lawyer, according to trial court documents, Haynes claimed the officer told him he would receive access to counsel once he wrote and signed a confession. While in custody, Raymond was subject to incommunicado detention and denied the ability to speak to his wife or lawyer until according to his testimony at trial he “…made a statement and cooperated with them, that they would see to it that as soon as I got booked, I could call my wife.”  Esther, Raymond’s wife, attempted to speak to her husband on December 20, 1957, a day after his arrest. She was curtly told by officers, that she could not see Raymond, but could buy “the morning paper and read [about] it.” Raymond made his second confession without assistance of counsel on December 20, 1957, influenced by Spokane Police Detective Pike’s offer that if Raymond, “… cooperated and gave him a statement, I could have a lawyer. Mr. Pike and the other officer both told me that when I had made a statement and cooperated with them that they would see to it that as soon as I got booked, I could call my wife.”  At trial, multiple officers testified to the use of a procedure whereby the SPD publicly acknowledged without apology, its use of the “small book” method of booking of suspects. Under the “small book,” the accused could not communicate with any visitors, including a lawyer, until formally booked for a crime. Raymond Haynes’ confessions were presented in a trial lasting a mere two days. It resulted in a guilty verdict with Haynes being sentenced to twenty years in the Washington State Penitentiary for the robbery of $66.80. Raymond and his lawyer appealed the case to the Washington State Supreme Court (WSSC) on constitutional grounds claiming that incommunicado detention and denial of an attorney violated Haynes’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and Sixth Amendment guarantee to counsel.

At this time, there was no bright line relating to confession protocols, which were later established by the Miranda decision, and courts deferred to state sovereignty. Courts at the state and national levels used what was called the “totality of circumstances” test to determine the voluntariness of a confession prior to, during, and after arrest. They considered factors such as age, intellect, and experience with the law in determining possible constitutional violations.  Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Finley, writing for the majority, rejected Haynes’ argument that his rights against self-incrimination and to counsel were violated on the basis that,
“Although there is no statement in the record of his educational background, it is abundantly clear from his testimony at the trial that he [Haynes] is an articulate person and certainly one of average intelligence, to say the least…his three prior felony convictions should be indicative of one of the hard practical facts of life: namely, that the processes of the law were not new and strange to appellant Haynes. To put it bluntly, and with no intention of humor or whimsy, this is not the case of an innocent or bewildered lamb, unfairly disadvantaged by police state officials.”
Justice Finley’s majority opinion is reflective of confession case law in its deference to local calculation of civil liberties prior to 1966. The decision in Miranda v Arizona in 1966, established the requirement of reading rights to the accused the moment they are in custody. Raymond Haynes, in the eyes of the Washington State Supreme Court, was a career criminal who knew exactly how the systems inside the police station and courtroom worked. Consequently, the court determined, he required no reminder of his rights. Recognition of constitutional rights and their protection at this time in America was based upon race, class, and the power of local authorities alone to determine civil liberties.

Haynes and his lawyer appealed the ruling of the Washington State Supreme Court to the United States Supreme Court (USSC) and on May 27, 1963, the USSC ruled in favor of Haynes.  The majority held that the Spokane Police Department had blatantly violated Haynes’s right to due process during his interrogation by denying him access to counsel. The ruling characterized Haynes’s confession as a product of “an atmosphere of substantial coercion and inducement created by statements and actions of state authorities.”

On its own, Haynes v. Washington is a steppingstone and footnote to Miranda. But evaluated in context with other forced confession cases from the 1930s through the 1960s, it represents how rights were defined and redefined in a context of historical forces, including Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. This case is attractive to students who know only of the law through pop culture, because it so obviously highlights flagrant disregard of the constitutional rights against self-incrimination and to an attorney. Its fact pattern naturally spurs questions relating to the denial of due process and its importance to the rights of the accused. Most students are shocked that there ever existed a time prior to the mandates of Miranda that the accused did not possess constitutionally respected rights once under arrest. Students in Washington State, specifically, also find it interesting that a case from their state served to influence the Miranda decision, but one might locate similar cases from other states to make local connections. The Haynes case and the questions posed within it, provide a compelling study of state’s rights, civil liberties, and federalism.

Using Supreme Court cases in the classroom provides students with the chance to interact with real individuals and case fact patterns that reveal the tension between constitutional rights and their protection and/or violation in a historical moment. An excellent resource for case summaries is Street Law's free case summary library. Once registered with a free account, teachers can access and download a variety of case readings to teach historical cases and constitutional rights. On Street Law’s site, they offer tips and case strategies for classroom use. Recently, through support of a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Regional Grant, Street Law developed and is piloting historical case summaries with corresponding primary sources for middle school use and can easily be used in the high school classroom.  Using actual U.S. Reports Supreme Court decisions, educators might provide students with excerpts from a landmark case majority and dissenting opinions to evaluate how a right was interpreted in context of precedent and contemporary standards. From my classroom experience, teaching a constitutional right anchored to a courtroom narrative involving real individuals, brings legal analysis and discussion alive through evaluation of constitutional guarantees and the law within a historical context. In addition to analyzing excerpts from Supreme Court case decisions as primary sources, consider providing students additional primary sources such as newspaper accounts, maps, manuscripts, and photos from the case time period which reflect its historical moment. For example, many US History classes study the tragic event of Cherokee Removal. To broaden and challenge student understanding of the event, introduce them to the text of the Indian Removal Act, 1830 . Encourage students to consider the following questions in their evaluation of the document: what year was this law passed, why would Native American tribes exchange their land with the federal government, what was the intent of Indian Removal Act, and what was on Cherokee lands that might be desirable? Next, show students A map of that part of Georgia occupied by the Cherokee Indians from the Library of Congress and guide students through additional analysis of the map focusing on its text, images, and intended audience. With student analysis of the previous two primary sources acting as a historical backdrop, share with students majority ruling excerpts from the Worcester v. the State of Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515 (1832) case specifically focusing on Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion (beginning in the middle of page 561), and ask them: which side of the case is Chief Justice Marshall ruling for, what is his main argument supporting his ruling, and using your knowledge of history, was the ruling enforced? When students realize that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee in Worcester v. the State of Georgia, educators have a meaningful opportunity to facilitate a discussion with students of  how Supreme Court cases are enforced, the system of federalism, tribal sovereignty, and the implications of presidential and state disregard of such rulings.

Humans are wired to interpret the world through narrative form. Using Supreme Court cases such as Haynes v. Washington and Worcester v. the State of Georgia in the classroom, offers a rich opportunity for educators to teach about the actors within them, the historical moment in context, and the legal and constitutional ideals involved. Strategic selection of court rulings in the Social Studies classroom based on course standards, student interest, and multidisciplinary aspects of the case, provide students with an engaging way to learn and internalize constitutional guarantees and American history.

Jen Reidel is a passionate Civics and Social Studies teacher at Options High School, a public alternative school in the Bellingham School District in Washington State. She is a James Madison Fellow (WA 02’), American Civic Educator awardee (2014), and currently serves as the 2019-2020 Civics Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.