To most people, the case Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), is synonymous with the Miranda warnings given to accused criminals. People understand that Miranda means that a criminal defendant has the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Although Miranda warnings do inform defendants of those rights, the Miranda decision is not what created those rights. In fact, under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, defendants already had those rights. However, many defendants were either ignorant of their rights or unsure how to exercise them. What Miranda did was require the police to inform suspects of their rights prior to interrogation. What post-Miranda case law has established is that failure by the police to follow the procedures established in Miranda can invalidate the results of otherwise legal confessions.
To truly understand the Miranda decision, it is important to understand pre-Miranda criminal law. To do so, it is important to dispel the common myths surrounding pre-Miranda custodial interrogation. There is some belief that, prior to the Miranda decision, the police were free to use any means they chose when interrogating a subject. It is important to understand that the United States Constitution never protected coerced confessions or the use of force in interrogation. However, there was no bright-line rule to determine whether or not a confession was coerced. The truth of the matter is that police custody, in and of itself, is a coercive environment. Some defendants may have felt compelled by that environment to confess to certain crimes. The second important fact to remember is that, even if guilt could be established by other means, the fact that a defendant was actually guilty of the crime could not excuse coercive police tactics. Under the Fifth Amendment, all Americans have the right not to incriminate themselves. That right does not depend on guilt or innocence. Furthermore, it is not that police procedures prior to the Miranda decision were geared towards preventing a defendant from exercising his rights; they were simply geared towards yielding information in the quickest and most efficient manner possible.
Miranda was actually a compilation of several cases, in which criminal defendants had been interrogated without being informed of their right to counsel or their right to remain silent. "In all these cases, suspects were questioned by police officers, detectives, or prosecuting attorneys in rooms that cut them off from the outside world. In none of the cases were suspects given warnings of their rights at the outset of their interrogation" (Goldman). Furthermore, the interrogations led to oral confessions in all of the cases, and written confessions in three of them. All of the defendants were convicted based on their confessions. Although the defendants had appealed their convictions in their state courts, those convictions had been affirmed. Therefore, the question presented to the Supreme Court was whether "the police practice of interrogating individuals without notifying them of their right to counsel and their protection against self-incrimination violate[d] the Fifth Amendment?" (Goldman).
The Miranda court determined that such interrogation did violate a defendant's Fifth Amendment rights. In fact, the court determined that:
the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. By custodial interrogation, we mean questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way. As for the procedural safeguards to be employed, unless other fully effective means are devised to inform accused persons of their right of silence and to assure a continuous opportunity to exercise it, the following measures are required. Prior to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed. The defendant may waive effectuation of these rights, provided the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently. If, however, he indicates in any manner and at any stage of the process that he wishes to consult with an attorney before speaking there can be no questioning. Likewise, if the individual is alone and indicates in any manner that he does not wish to be interrogated, the police may not question him. The mere fact that he may have answered some questions or volunteered some statements on his own does not deprive him of the right to refrain from answering any further inquiries until he has consulted with an attorney and thereafter consents to be questioned. (Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 at 443-445 36 (1966)).
In coming to their decision, the majority of the Court focused on actual practices. In fact, they relied upon information gleaned from a review of police training manuals to determine that isolating a subject was a common interrogation tactic. Furthermore, the Court had recently decided Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, in which it had determined that the results of any interrogations that were continued after denying a defendant's request for an attorney were inadmissible. The court also made it clear that they were not establishing new rights, but simply establishing a way to enforce existing Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.
The dissent disagreed with the majority's position. In fact, the dissent believed that, by establishing a bright-line rule, the Miranda decision would lead to the release of many criminals. In fact, the dissent felt that the current system of evaluating a defendant's knowledge of their rights against the backdrop of the individual circumstances of each interrogation was sufficient to protect a defendant's Fifth Amendment rights. To this, the majority responded:
The Fifth Amendment privilege is so fundamental to our system of constitutional rule and the expedient of giving an adequate warning as to the availability of the privilege so simple, we will not pause to inquire in individual cases whether the defendant was aware of his rights without a warning being given. Assessments of the knowledge the defendant possessed, based on information as to his age, education, intelligence, or prior contact with authorities, can never be more than speculation; a warning is a clear-cut fact. (Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 at 468-469).
While some might agree with the dissent's concerns, the end result of the Miranda controversy tends to indicate otherwise. "Miranda was retried, and this time the police did not use the confession but called witnesses and used other evidence. Miranda was convicted, and served 11 years" (Wikipedia). In other words, the exclusion of the results of coercive interrogations does not necessarily mean that criminals will go free.
However, the fact that the Miranda decision cannot be equated with a license to commit crime, does not mean that the Miranda decision did not have a dramatic effect on police procedure. Police departments were inquired to issue the so-called Miranda warnings prior to interrogating a person under arrest. There was controversy as the courts had to determine what constituted arrest and custodial interrogation. The result was that, once a defendant is no longer free to leave or to end questioning, even voluntary interrogations become custodial.
At the time of the decision, Miranda was widely criticized. In fact, many people believed that its requirements were unfair to law enforcement and pro-criminal. In fact, "the federal Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 purported to overrule Miranda for federal criminal cases and restore the "totality of the circumstances" test that had prevailed previous to Miranda" (Wikipedia). Furthermore, subsequent decision appeared to eat away at the protections afforded in the Miranda decision. For example, confessions obtained in violation of Miranda can be used for impeachment purposes, as can spontaneous statements. (Wikipedia). Furthermore, there is a "public safety" exception to the requirement that Miranda warnings be given before questioning;" if there are exigent circumstances, a defendant can be questioned without a Miranda warning, and his responses can be used against him. However, many of these exceptions would have been available prior to the Miranda decision and actually simply reinforced pre-existing evidence and procedural laws.
In fact, if anything, the standards under Miranda have become more strict. For example, the original Miranda decision only required that the police advice defendants of their rights. However, subsequent case law has determined that any waiver of Fifth Amendment rights has to be knowing and voluntary. As a result, Miranda warnings must be meaningful. To ensure that the warnings are meaningful, "it is usually required that the suspect be asked if he understand his rights" (Wikipedia). Furthermore, in order to comply with the requirements that waivers be knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, many police departments have suspects sign pre-printed waiver forms prior to custodial interrogation (Wikipedia).
One of the most interesting things about the Miranda decision is that it does not appear to have resulted in a significant change in the behavior of criminals. In fact, "a…