There probably isn’t a man, women or child who isn’t aware of the phrase, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” It’s standard procedure demonstrated on every TV cop show and movie since the 1960s. Yet it’s hard to believe that just 48 years ago this past week, law enforcement agents weren’t required to inform suspects being arrested and interrogated that they had certain rights guarding against self-incrimination and had the right to speak with an attorney, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. These rights, now required to be read to anyone being arrested, are called Miranda Rights after the man whose case brought the situation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ernesto Miranda was born in March of 1941 in Mesa, Arizona. He had run-ins with the law throughout his adult life, and in 1963, was arrested on suspicion of committing robbery, kidnapping and rape. He was a laborer at a loading dock of a Phoenix produce company at the time. After nine hours of interrogation by Phoenix police, Miranda confessed to the crimes, in writing. Despite the objections of his court-appointed attorney, arguing that the confession was unconstitutionally obtained, Miranda was convicted and sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison.
His attorney appealed the case through the system up to the Arizona Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction. He filed for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but ill health prevented him from becoming the attorney of record for the case. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in November of 1965, an attorney from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) was appointed by the court to represent Mr. Miranda, since he was unable to pay for his own representation.
On June 13, 1966, The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Miranda’s conviction. Two years earlier the court had confirmed in Escobedo v. Illinois that a suspect had a right to an attorney while being questioned or detained against his will. It was this technicality that was cited in the verdict, since intimidating tactics were alleged by the police during his questioning. Miranda had not been informed of his right to remain silent, or his right to speak with an attorney. This marked the legal end of police giving suspects the “third degree,” which was voiced in so many gangster movies of the 1930s and ’40s.
The state of Arizona retried Miranda, this time without entering the confession as evidence, and he was convicted in 1967. He was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison and was paroled in 1972. In January of 1976 Ernesto Miranda was stabbed to death in an argument in a bar.
It’s hard to say how quickly after the Supreme Court ruling was made public that the reading of Miranda Rights made its way into cop shows and movies, but it must have been fast. We know that Dragnet and other popular cop shows of the 1960s wove the scenario into their story lines. It could very well be the writers saw an opportunity for drama and couldn’t pass it up. Besides, they needed a substitute for the “third degree.”
Thankfully, Mister Boomer has never been arrested, despite a couple of encounters with law enforcement in his rebellious youth and protest days. Thanks to TV, though, he, as many other boomers did, would have known his rights if the situation arose.
When did you first learn about Miranda Rights, boomers?