Today in 1966, the Supreme Court of the United States reached its verdict on the Miranda v. Arizona case, instituting the policing policy we now know as the Miranda Rights. The court’s decision ruled that all suspects of criminal activity must be advised of their rights before they endure a police interrogation.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will, be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you.” We’ve all heard it a thousand times. But it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that for most of American history, it was up to the individual citizen to carry a mental dossier of their own legal rights and liabilities, with no compulsory assistance from law enforcement.
The Miranda decision was a consequence of events on March 2, 1963. An eighteen-year-old woman in Phoenix told the police that she had been abducted and raped. The police followed her description of her abductor’s car to a man named Ernesto Miranda, who had previously been convicted as a peeping tom. Miranda was brought in for questioning that produced a confession that was later redacted, on the grounds that he wasn’t aware at the time that he would have been within his constitutional rights to not speak.
Miranda’s confession did not neatly match the details that the victim’s story. Miranda was convicted of the abduction and rape largely thanks to the incompetent performance of his court-appointed attorney, who was only paid $100 for his defense. Miranda appealed from prison, and the ACLU took his case, claiming the confession that led to Miranda’s incarceration was a false one.
Miranda’s conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court, but he was then retried and reconvicted in 1966. He was imprisoned until 1972. After he was released, Miranda was stabbed to death in a bar bathroom over a poker game in 1976.
Due to the Supreme Court upholding Miranda’s appeal, every person arrested by the police must now be advised of their “Miranda” rights. The Miranda Rights are a common element in film and television, and are now so familiar to us that, if forced to, we could probably all recite them from memory. But it’s remarkable just how recently the policy was first put on the books. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to force the legal system to implement the safeguard.