Pros and Cons of Miranda Rights Term Paper

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Miranda Rights



Protection against self-incrimination is undoubtedly one of the most basic rights as described in the laws and codes of the American legal system. In the past, this right was often completely abridged, for those that were accused of a crime would be forced to confess their guilt through various forms of torture. But under American law, the protection against self-incrimination infers that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by his/her peers or judges and that the government or some other legal body must prove their guilt via a fair and balanced trial.

In Miranda v. Arizona (1966), one of the best examples of the decisions laid down by the Warren court, it was determined that "in order to secure criminal suspect's Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, the police must advise suspects in custody, before any questioning takes place, of their right to remain silent" (Day, 1964, 145). Ernesto Miranda, convicted of kidnapping and rape due to his confession, had his case overturned on the grounds that he had been denied his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights as outlined in the U.S. Bill of Rights. This decision established the now-famous "Miranda warning" that requires the police to advise suspects before questioning that they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say can be used against them, that they have the right to be represented by an attorney and that if they are unable to afford an attorney, one will be provided by the court.

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The so-called "Miranda Decision" was very controversial, due to "the probe conducted by the Supreme Court into police practices that had previously been concealed from the public and free from the scrutiny of the courts" (Gay, 1967, 67). Thus, conservative critics argued that this decision went too far in creating new rules for the police, due in part to the fact that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments do not specifically refer to advising suspects of their rights. In contrast, civil libertarians responded by saying that the Supreme Court acted properly in regard to what is required in order to give practical meaning to specific provisions of the Bill of Rights. Therefore, the "Miranda Decision" contains numerous pros and cons in relation to its legality and interpretation, due to some viewing it as protecting the criminal at the expense of the victims while others see it as not going far enough to protect the victims instead of the criminal.


Chief Justice Earl Warren, in giving his opinion for a majority of five on the Supreme Court, acknowledged that an earlier decision known as Escobedo v. Illinois had been subjected to much speculation, uncertainty, disagreement and criticism by numerous lower courts, legal scholars, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel. According to Chief Warren, the Miranda case "had been accepted in order to explore some facets of the problems. . . Of applying the privilege against self-incrimination to in-custody interrogation. . . And to give concrete constitutional guidelines for law enforcement agencies and courts to follow" (Dix, 1973, 78).

Furthermore, Chief Warren, in regard to the threats to suspects and the challenge for courts, stressed that "the interrogation of suspects in a police-dominated atmosphere may result

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in self-incriminating statements on the part of the suspect" (Dix, 1973, 80). For the most part, at the time of the "Miranda Decision," physical coercion, sometime referred to as the "third degree," was still being practiced by law enforcement officials as was psychological coercion, wherein the police would use tactics to break down the mental stability of the suspect in order to achieve a confession. These tactics thus exacted "a heavy toll on individual liberty and took advantage of the mental weaknesses of the suspect, causing them to surrender rights that they might have used under different settings or conditions" (Dix, 1973, 82).

The majority was clearly reacting against the overall atmosphere of interrogation, for they recognized that the defendant's statements might have been obtained involuntarily via destructive police interrogation methods which meant that some confessions were not the product of free choice. The remedy, as Chief Warren pointed out, was the "presence of legal counsel that would ensure that any statements made by the suspect were the products of his/her own free will and not the result of police coercion" (Riley, 1994, 178). To make this possible, it was essential that after a suspect was arrested that he/she be told of their constitutional rights and be allowed to utilize them.

In addition, the majority believed that any reforms would help the courts to make proper decisions concerning the admission and credibility of confessions. The presence of a lawyer at interrogations would thus "ensure the accuracy of the defendant's statements and of the reporting of those statements by the prosecution when the case came to trial" (Riley, 1994, 180). Also, these reforms would decrease the use of coercive tactics by the interrogators and Miranda 4

provide the judge with a witness to what took place during the interrogations regarding their true nature. Lastly, if suspects declined the help of a lawyer, the fact that they had been clearly told of their rights would mostly guarantee that any statement made was the product of their own free will.

In contrast, the remaining four dissenters on the Supreme Court thought that the police "were being maligned and found the Miranda decision to be both bad law and bad policy" (Day, 1964, 156). Justices Harlan and White, the main opponents, argued that neither the right to a lawyer nor the privilege against self-incrimination could support the decision. Harlan observed that "such right-to-counsel decisions as Johnson v. Zerbst, Gideon v. Wainwright served as the basis for the confessional rules outlined in Miranda v. Arizona" and that "while the Court found no pertinent differences between judicial proceedings and police interrogation, I believe the differences are so vast as to disqualify wholly the Sixth Amendment precedents as suitable analogies in the present case" (Gold, 1995, 145).

Justice White declared that the results of Miranda v. Arizona forces the Court "to stay within the confines of the Fifth Amendment which forbids self-incrimination only if compelled. Hence, the core of the Court's opinion is that because of the compulsion in custodial surroundings, no statement obtained from a suspect can truly be the product of his/her own choice" (Gold, 1995, 147). In support of this, Justice Harlan argued that the Fifth Amendment "has never been thought to forbid all pressure to incriminate oneself in the situations covered by it." Harlan also termed the new rules as a "hazardous experimentation" and warned that the defense attorney in the police station may become an obstacle to truth-finding." Justice White

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was even more blunt when he stated "that a good many criminal defendants who otherwise would have been convicted on what this Court previously thought will now, under this new version of the Fifth Amendment, either not be tried at all or will be acquitted if the State's evidence is put to the test of litigation" (Riley, 1994, 189-90).

The implementation of Miranda v. Arizona was based primarily in terms of contrasting constitutional philosophies and their impact on public policy. Chief Justice Warren's statement of the Court's new position was extremely specific in regard to the rules police must follow in conducting interrogations, but it did not address all of the issues of implementation. Thus, the pros and cons associated with the rights determined by Miranda v. Arizona were discussed and argued for many years and in essence are still being debated by lawyers, judges and police officials.



As outlined in Miranda v. Arizona, the rights related to the concept of custody have evolved of the years and is composed of three parts -- first, the process of resolving the degree of control over the suspect, second, the location of the interrogation, and third, the perceptions and intentions of the participants, such as the police, the lawyer and the suspect himself. The "Miranda Decision" stated that the new rules must apply "after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way" (Gold, 1995, 213).

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These rules regarding custody also applies to a person who is questioned by the police while in prison, thus placing him in the custody of the state which mandates that he/she must be given the Miranda rights. Furthermore, if a suspect is not being held in the police station nor in prison but is under arrest in his bedroom in a boardinghouse, he too is under custody and is thus entitled to the Miranda rights. This situation of custody is very favorable for the suspect, but in the case of the police, it forces them to protect the rights of the criminal even though he/she has already confessed to a…

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