Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

The Supreme Court held that the custodial interrogation of an individual must be accompanied by an instruction that the person has the right to remain silent, any statements made can be used against the person, and that the individual has the right to counsel, either retained or appointed; absent these safeguards, statements made in this context will be inadmissible in court.  (Read the opinion here.)

In the majority opinion delivered by Chief Justice Warren, the Court addressed which procedures must be observed in accordance with the Fifth Amendment when questioning an individual subject to police interrogation. This decision, crouched in a consolidated case where several unrelated individuals were questioned for prolonged periods of time without being informed of their rights, reaffirmed the Constitutional principles that “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” and that “the accused shall . . . have the Assistance of Counsel.” These rights, according to the Court, were enshrined within the Constitution to protect against the overzealous enforcement of police authority.

The Court summarized its holding as thus: “the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory of inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.” An individual questioned after being taken by law enforcement officers into custody must be advised of their right to remain silent, that any statements made could be used against him, and that he has the right to counsel, whether retained or appointed. In this way, the Court held that not only is the individual made aware of their rights, but of the consequences of foregoing them. These rights exist throughout the questioning process, and even where an individual voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently waives these rights, may exercise them later in the process. If such a waiver occurs, the burden of proof rests on the government to demonstrate it was made within the bounds of the law.

The Court appeared to be particularly concerned with what went on in police-dominated atmospheres during interrogation procedures where individuals were cut off from the outside world. Absent advising these persons of their rights, police might coerce or force confessions from potential suspects through psychological or physical means. After a lengthy explication of the right against self-incrimination, the Court applied a liberal construction to this right and found that its privilege must be applied throughout the questioning process, subject to waiver where the individual makes it voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. The Court concluded by noting that it does not intend its outlined procedures to unnecessarily constrict the pursuit of effective law enforcement, but rather that absent action by the states or Federal Government, these procedures must be followed within the current system. It is within the procedures outlined by the Court that a statement gained during interrogation may become admissible in court (absent any other evidentiary objections).

In a dissenting opinion by Justice Harlan, joined by Justices Stewart and White, this dissent noted the Court’s history of treating admissibility cases like the one before it had occurred on a case-by-case basis. Justice Harlan also recognized the Court’s history of giving recognition to the public interest in the value of suspect questioning. In sum, the protections already afforded to defendants within statutes and case law, coupled with the appropriate striking of a balance with law enforcement aims, means that, according to Justice Harlan, the additional protections required by the majority overstep Fifth Amendment jurisprudence. This dissent also weighed policy concerns, for example where a competent individual makes a confession after brief and harmless questioning but whose admission is now inadmissible should the police have failed to warn him he has the right to remain silent. Moreover, Justice Harlan argued that the protections granted by the majority will not be upheld by the officer who was likely to violate the pre-Miranda rights of the accused from the start.

Justice White, in a dissent joined by Justices Harlan and Stewart, asserted that the history and language of the Fifth Amendment meant that its protections only applied in criminal proceedings, not custodial interrogations.

Justice Clark, dissenting in part and concurring in part, criticized the majority for going too far and the dissent for doing too little. Justice Clark was concerned with the lack of information and empirical knowledge on whether the protections instituted by the majority would be functional. Rather, the Court should continue to abide by the “totality of circumstances” rule formulated in Haynes v. Washington.