You have the right to remain silent!

This is Kylie Nix who is now a student at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA and her field of study is Criminal Justice.

Kylie is a senior and is due to graduate in the spring at which time she hopes to go into police work.

We in the “Nix Clan” are very proud of her.

Occasionally, Kylie will do a paper in school that I like (and she somehow knows I will like them because she sends them to me for reading). I have found some of these so intriguing that I have decided to publish some of them here on my blog. I mean after all it is my blog to publish as I please and I publish them in hopes that some of you can learn as much as I have.

In the past I have published two of here articles that were very interesting. If after reading this one you want to look at those two you can find them by clicking in the titles below:

I am certain that you have heard that warning in the past. Hopefully, not directed to you, but rather on TV shows like “Law and Order” or something similar. Where does it come from and why is it used? Some of those answers can be found in the paper my granddaughter wrote earlier this year. If you have comments, please comment below the article so that Kylie will be able to see them.

The Miranda Rights

            Everyone is aware of the Miranda warning due to the media popularizing the readings every time an arrest or interrogation is undergone. Before 1966 however, with the notable landmark case Miranda vs. Arizona, these warnings were non-existent and citizens were subjected to physical and psychological coercive police interrogation without the knowledge of their rights. Before this landmark case, the courts would depend on statute 3501, also known as the voluntariness test, to determine whether a confession would be admissible in court proceedings. The Miranda decision essentially replaced the statute’s voluntariness test, however, critics in Congress attempted to revive this statute in order to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Miranda vs. Arizona. The critics of this case are not limited only to Congress, many law enforcers felt that by reading citizens their rights, it will make it more difficult to obtain confessions or to even be able to speak with suspects, making their jobs more difficult than before. Throughout this paper I will lay out the history of the Miranda rights, from the use of third degree tactics in interrogations up to the implementation of the Miranda warnings, explain the case of Miranda v. Arizona, discuss congressional actions on the decision in Miranda vs. Arizona, give examples of a few cases that either helped or narrowed the effectiveness of the Miranda ruling, and lastly, determine whether this Supreme Court decision has achieved the goal it initially set out to achieve in 1966.

            Before the Miranda decision, the court’s main focus was on the reliability of confessions derived from interrogation methods. Once interrogation moved from judicial interrogation to police interrogation, third degree tactics were being acted out in private resulting in many false confessions. (O’Neill, 192) The court, in an effort to eliminate all third-degree tactics during the interrogation process, relied on the fifth and fourteenth amendment. The court’s main focus was ensuring that any confession brought by interrogation methods was the product of the suspect’s free will and it was in no way coerced. Two cases were used to eliminate the use of third degree tactics during interrogations by police: Sparf and Hansen v. United States and Bram v. United States. In the case Sparf and Hansen v. United States, the investigation revolved around a missing mate of an American sailing vessel. The captain essentially identified three suspects and ordered that they be put in leg irons and held in the brig for the return trip. During the trial, the captain and two other crew members testified that one of the defendants had confessed to the crime. “In dicta, the Court suggested that the confession would have been involuntary, and thus inadmissible, only if it had been adduced by violence, the threat of punishment, or false promises of mercy”. (O’Neill, 193) Therefore, this case essentially made confessions that were derived from these methods of interrogation inadmissible in the court of law. Bram v. United States also involved a murder of the captain, the captain’s wife, and the second mate. When suspensions were directed to a crew member, Mr. Brown, he pointed his finger towards Bram and ultimately Bram was placed in irons and turned over to police authorities when the ship reached the port. During the interrogation, the police stated that Brown was making a statement that he saw Bram commit the murder. In return Bram stated to the authorities “He could not have seen me; where was he?” ultimately implying that he indeed did commit the murder and there is no way anyone could have witnessed it. (O’Neill, 194) The court ruled in this case that by threatening Bram with Brown’s accusation against him, the police made Bram believe that not speaking would be looked at as an admission of guilt. (O’Neill, 194) Both these cases combined successfully eliminated the use of third-degree tactics by police during interrogations. However, the Supreme Court didn’t stop there. “For the Supreme Court, policing the police was a simpler task than trying accurately to assess the defendant’s state of mind.” (O’Neill, 196)

            Now that confessions from third degree tactics were inadmissible in court proceedings, a new problem arises with the case Spano v. New York. In this case, the police took advantage of Spanos close friendship with an officer in order to derive a confession from him for the murder of a former professional boxer. Spano eventually turned himself in after confessing to the murder to his attorney. His attorney, like most, advised Spano not to speak with the officers in the interrogation and following his attorney’s advice, Spano complied. However, after the police realized they would not be getting a confession from Spano in the initial interrogation, they decided to instruct Bruno, Spanos friend, to call Spano and tell him that his earlier phone call had gotten Bruno in a lot of trouble with his supervisor. Bruno himself went in to interrogate Spano and tried three times to get Spano to confess by telling him “that his job was in jeopardy unless he confessed”. (O’Neill, 198) After the fourth try, Spano finally confessed to the murder, however, the court in disagreement with the officer’s methods of interrogation decided that something needed to be done to eliminate psychological coercion during interrogations.

            Two cases that became the ideological progenitors of Miranda were Massiah v. United States and Escobedo v. Illinois. (O’Neill, 199) The case Massiah v. United States ultimately decided that “officers may not elicit information from a suspect represented by counsel if that counsel is not present.” (O’Neill, 199) The case Escobedo v. Illinois, which is recognized as the beginning of the end of the voluntariness test, the police refused to allow Escobedo to consult with his lawyer, even after requested counsel. “By ignoring the actual circumstances surrounding the interrogation and focusing instead on Escobedo’s ignorance of the law, the Court laid the foundation for the right to counsel during custodial interrogation and thus opened the door to Miranda.” (O’Neill, 201)

            Miranda v. Arizona is a landmark case that many people are aware of. What majority of the public is not aware of however, is the difficulties the court went through in finding a balance between police interrogations and informing citizens of their rights. Ernesto Miranda was accused of kidnapping and brutally raping an eighteen-year-old woman. During a lineup conducted by the police, the victim was unable to identify Miranda in the lineup however, the police told Miranda that he was positively identified by the victim in order to elicit a confession from him. Not only did Miranda confess to the crime he was brought in for, but also for two separate crimes. The police obtained a hand-written confession from Miranda and also a signed statement admitting that he had voluntarily confessed with full knowledge of his rights. (O’Neill, 201) Surprisingly, the court decided to suppress Miranda’s confession in court stating that “An individual swept from familiar surroundings into police custody, surrounded by antagonist forces, and subjected to… techniques of persuasion, cannot be otherwise than under compulsion to speak”. (O’Neill, 202) Therefore, even with third degree tactics and psychological compelling factors eliminated in interrogations, the court still firmly believed that the process of interrogation alone is enough for someone to falsely confess. Ultimately, the court decided that a reading or warning of their Constitutional rights was the only way to be certain that the suspect was aware of these rights and how to invoke them before the interrogation began taking place. (O’Neill, 204) Therefore, out of this case decision came the popularized Miranda warnings that have been seen and heard by the majority of citizens today. Unfortunately, like most Supreme Court decisions, there were many critics of this new Miranda ruling.

            “Intense dislike of Miranda led Congress to pass Title II Omnibus Crime control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, a law purporting to overrule the decision and to reinstate the voluntariness test in federal cases’ ‘. (Zalman and Smith, 881) This new act of Congress resulted in three categories of collateral use of improperly obtained confessions and one clear exception to the Miranda ruling. The first collateral use is impeachment, this allows statements in violation to Miranda to be used in court in cases in which the suspect takes the stand and testified in contradiction to the statement made to the police. This is allowed to “impeach the suspect’s veracity and not to prove guilt”. (Zalman and Smith, 882) The second collateral use is derivative leads, this collateral allows information derived from illegally obtained statements to be used by police as leads to find further incriminating evidence. Therefore, for this collateral, the fruits of the poisonous tree doctrine do not apply to the Miranda violations. The third collateral use is cured statements. This collateral comes into play when a suspect confesses before Miranda warnings were given and then makes a second confession after the Miranda warnings were administered. Lastly, Title II lays out a public safety exception stating that unwarned statements will be admissible when the questions being asked are concerned with an immediate threat to public safety. (Zalman and Smith, 882-883) What the collaterals and one exception did was give police more leniency with the Miranda warnings in order to make it easier to obtain statements from suspects and use them to their advantage. However, many police found loopholes around the Miranda warnings in order to increase their chances of having a suspect waive their rights.

            One case that tackled the police’s methods to get around the Miranda rulings was Missouri v. Seibert. In this case the police used what is called the question-first interrogation method to obtain a confession from a suspect. In this method, police would interrogate the suspect without reading them their rights and when they got a confession that would be considered inadmissible in court, they would read the suspect their rights and cover the same ground again to once again obtain a confession that would be admissible. (Kinports, 379) Ultimately, Missouri v. Seibert put an end to police’s attempts to abuse the use of collateral three: cured statements. There were many cases like Seibert in which police found loopholes to the Miranda ruling in order to obtain confessions through trickery or sneaky methods of interrogation. In order to properly protect the rights of the suspect who is being interrogated, court cases such as Maryland v. Shatzer, provided limitations to the police when interrogating. In the case Maryland v. Shatzer, the court recognized a break-in-custody exception. This exception required that police wait a period of two weeks after the suspect invokes their rights in order for the police to be allowed to re-interrogate the suspect about the same crime. The court’s opinion was grounded in the fact that two weeks provides enough time for the suspect to consult with an attorney about the case. (Kinports, 382-383) Lastly, Berghuis v. Thompkins was a big case in helping establish the waiving of rights in interrogations. This case established that the suspect must implicitly voice their desire to invoke their rights and that police may continue to interrogate until an undisputable invocation of rights is expressed. (Kinports, 406) These and many other cases helped try to maintain the balance between obtaining confessions in police interrogations and the reading of rights to suspects who are undergoing an interrogation. Even with the loopholes founded by police and the court decisions to help protect citizens, many people question whether or not the decision in Miranda has been making an impact on the number of false confessions obtained from interrogations.

            The Miranda v. Arizona’s decision ensured that any confession or statement made to police, “absent a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of the prophylactic Miranda warnings… will be excluded from evidence in subsequent trial proceedings’ ‘. (Leo, 621) Studies done within three years after the Miranda decision noted some short term effects of the Miranda ruling. These short-term effects conclude that police complied with the letter but not the spirit of the Miranda decision, despite the reading of rights to suspects, they still routinely waived their rights therefore having only a small effect on the ability of the police to elicit confessions from suspects, and ultimately, Miranda did not have a huge impact on the number of convictions of criminal suspects after the Miranda decision was enacted, like most assumed it would. (Leo, 632) These conclusions were derived from the studies done in “The Miranda Impact Studies’ ‘ between 1966 to 1973. According to Richard Leo’s study “The Impact of ‘Miranda’ Revisited”, “the Miranda impact studies are all outdated and thus are largely irrelevant for assessing the current and ongoing impact of Miranda in America today. (646) Therefore, he conducted his own research and studies to get an accurate impact of the Miranda decision after police and law enforcers have fully adjusted to the new procedure. According to Leo, Miranda sought simply to “mandate a set of warnings that, prior to any interrogation, provide custodial suspects with informed knowledge both of their constitutional rights and of the uses to which any statements they make to police might be put.” (Leo, 649) Therefore, I conclude, as does Richard Leo in his study, that the Miranda decision accomplished its intended goal it set out to accomplish in 1966. Due to the highly popularized readings, most citizens are aware that they have a constitutional right to remain silent and to consult with a lawyer before, during, after, or any other time during an interrogation.            

In conclusion, the Miranda v. Arizona court case had raised enough criticism that Congress, just two short years after the Miranda case, tried to overrule the decision made by the Supreme Court. Ultimately, their attempt to overrule just weakened the decision slightly by providing three collaterals and one clear exception to confessions or statements taken in violation of Miranda. Police have found ways around the Miranda warnings but case by case the Supreme Court limited the police’s ability to get around the warnings by court cases such as Missouri v. Seibert. Police still use trickery and coercive methods in order to obtain waivers to these rights in order to gain confessions however, the Miranda decision ultimately did what it set out to do: make citizens aware that they have these rights and what will happen if they decide to waive their rights. In the end, I believe that Miranda v. Arizona was a benefit to law enforcement and the community not only by eliminating coercive methods that resulted in false confessions but also to educate suspects who may not have been aware of their rights to give everyone a fair opportunity in the court of law.

Well there you have it. Miranda … how it came about and why it came about. Hope you were able to learn as much as this old man did. Someday perhaps I can get her to explain why it is against the law for a citizen to lie to the police yet perfectly okay for the police to lie to the citizen when trying to gain a confession. Still scratching my head on that one.

6 thoughts on “You have the right to remain silent!

  1. Edith Mitchell Nix

    This is a beautiful paper written by a Gorgeous Girl that just happens to be MY Great Granddaughter. I am very proud of you Kylie keep up the good work. You will be a wonderful Officer of the Court.

    1. Nick, good to hear from you. I have sent your comments to my granddaughter and she wanted me to let you know how much she really appreciated your reading and commenting on her article. Law Enforcement has been her field of choice since she was about 6 years old and started watching TV shows about it.

  2. Mary Hopper

    Well done, I enjoyed reading your paper, it is both interesting and informative! I believe that you will make a fine addition to any field of law enforcement that you choose to pursue.

    1. Mary, I have sent your comment to my granddaughter and she wants you to known that she surely does appreciate it. Law enforcement is a field she has been interested in since she was about 6 years old. I am glad to see that she is pursuing it.

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