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50th Anniversary of Miranda
Mar 11, 2019

50th Anniversary of Miranda

In 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Miranda v. Arizona.  While that case has been forever referred to and the subsequent warnings as Miranda, the Court actually analyzed four separate cases dealing with police custodial interrogations.  In the opening sentence, Chief Justice Warren noted, “The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of our concepts of American criminal jurisprudence: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime. More specifically, we deal with the admissibility of statements obtained from an individual who is subjected to custodial police interrogation and the necessity for procedures which assure that the individual is accorded his privilege under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution not to be compelled to incriminate himself.” Miranda v. Arizona (1966), 384 U.S. 436, 439; 86 S. Ct. 1602.  It is without doubt that the Court understood that Miranda would forever change police procedures.  In reading the analysis (a Google search will produce the entire Supreme Court opinion), the Court devoted numerous pages not to the facts of the pending matter, but rather to summarizing the then practice and procedure of police interrogation throughout the country. Id. at 448-457.  It was clear that the Court was not just deciding “the case,” but was sending a clear message to the entire police community.  The Court noted, “In the cases before us today, given this background, we concern ourselves primarily with this interrogation atmosphere and the evils it can bring.” Id. at 456.  Until Miranda, the Court dealt with many examples of physical coercion; however, in Miranda the Court noted that, “we stress that the modern practice of in-custody interrogation is psychologically rather than physically oriented. As we have stated before, ‘Since Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, this Court has recognized that coercion can be mental as well as physical, and that the blood of the accused is not the only hallmark of an unconstitutional inquisition.’” Miranda, at 448, citing Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 206 (1960).  “It is obvious that such an interrogation environment is created for no purpose other than to subjugate the individual to the will of his examiner. This atmosphere carries its own badge of intimidation. To be sure, this is not physical intimidation, but it is equally destructive of human dignity.” Id. at 457.

The Court concluded that when an individual was taken into custody and subjected to questioning, the U.S. Const. Amendment V privilege against self-incrimination was jeopardized. To protect the privilege, procedural safeguards were required. A defendant was required to be warned before questioning that he had the right to remain silent, and that anything he said can be used against him in a court of law. A defendant was required to be told that he had the right to the presence of an attorney, and if he cannot afford an attorney one was to be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desired. After these warnings were given, a defendant could knowingly and intelligently waive these rights and agree to answer questions or make a statement. Evidence obtained as a result of interrogation was not to be used against a defendant at trial unless the prosecution demonstrated the warnings were given, and knowingly and intelligently waived. Miranda at 444.  “If, however, the defendant indicates in any manner and at any stage of the process that he wishes to consult with an attorney before speaking there can be no questioning. Likewise, if the individual is alone and indicates in any manner that he does not wish to be interrogated, the police may not question him. The mere fact that he may have answered some questions or volunteered some statements on his own does not deprive him of the right to refrain from answering any further inquiries until he has consulted with an attorney and thereafter consents to be questioned.” Id at 444-445.

The Court has re-emphasized Miranda in numerous cases since 1966 but has focused on the various nuances of each case.  In Duckworth v. Eagan, the Hammond, Indiana police questioned Gary Eagan regarding attempted murder.  “Before doing so, the police read to respondent a waiver form, entitled “Voluntary Appearance; Advice of Rights,” and they asked him to sign it. The form provided:  Before we ask you any questions, you must understand your rights. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have a right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions, and to have him with you during questioning. You have this right to the advice and presence of a lawyer even if you cannot afford to hire one. We have no way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, if and when you go to court.If you wish to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering questions at any time. You also have the right to stop answering at any time until you’ve talked to a lawyer.” Duckworth v. Eagan (1989), 492 U.S. 195, 198.  The Court upheld Eagan’s conviction.  The Court reasoned, “we have never insisted that Miranda warnings be given in the exact form described in that decision.  In Miranda itself, the Court said that, ‘the warnings required and the waiver necessary in accordance with our opinion today are, in the absence of a fully effective equivalent, prerequisites to the admissibility of any statement made by a defendant.’”  In California v. Prysock, 453 U.S. 355 (1981), the Court stated, “that the ‘rigidity’ of Miranda [does not] extend to the precise formulation of the warnings given a criminal defendant, and that ‘no talismanic incantation [is] required to satisfy its strictures.’” Duckworth, at 203.  “The relevant inquiry is simply whether the warnings reasonably convey to a suspect his rights as required by Miranda.” Id. at 204.

In Minnick v. Mississippi, Petitioner Robert Minnick and fellow prisoner James Dyess escaped from a county jail in Mississippi and, a day later, broke into a mobile home in search of weapons. In the course of the burglary they were interrupted by the arrival of the trailer’s owner, Ellis Thomas, accompanied by Lamar Lafferty and Lafferty’s infant son. Dyess and Minnick used the stolen weapons to kill Thomas and the senior Lafferty. Minnick’s story is that Dyess murdered one victim and forced Minnick to shoot the other.  Minnick was arrested in Lemon Grove, California, on a Mississippi warrant, some four months after the murders. Id. at 148.  Minnick’s confession at issue resulted from the last interrogation of Minnick while he was held in the San Diego jail.  The day following the arrest two FBI agents came to the jail to interview him.  Petitioner testified that he refused to go to the interview, but was told he would “have to go down or else.”  The FBI report indicates that the agents read petitioner his Miranda warnings, and that he acknowledged he understood his rights.  He refused to sign a rights waiver form, however, and said he would not answer “very many” questions.  Minnick told the agents about the jailbreak and the flight, and described how Dyess threatened and beat him.  Early in the interview, he sobbed “it was my life or theirs,” but otherwise he hesitated to tell what happened at the trailer. The agents reminded him he did not have to answer questions without a lawyer present. According to the report, “Minnick stated ‘Come back Monday when I have a lawyer,’ and stated that he would make a more complete statement then with his lawyer present.” The FBI interview ended.  Id. at 148-149.  After the FBI interview, an appointed attorney met with petitioner. Petitioner spoke with the lawyer on two or three occasions. Id.  Two days later, Deputy Sheriff J. C. Denham of Clarke County, Mississippi, came to the San Diego jail to question Minnick. Minnick testified that his jailers again told him he would “have to talk” to Denham and that he “could not refuse.” Id., at 45. Denham advised petitioner of his rights, and petitioner again declined to sign a rights waiver form.  Petitioner told Denham about the escape and then proceeded to describe the events at the mobile home.  Minnick was tried for murder in Mississippi.  He moved to suppress all statements given to the FBI or other police officers, including Denham. The trial court denied the motion with respect to petitioner’s statements to Denham.  Petitioner was convicted on two counts of capital murder and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision.  “When an accused has invoked his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation, a valid waiver of that right cannot be established by showing only that he responded to further police-initiated custodial interrogation even if he has been advised of his rights. Further, an accused who requests an attorney, having expressed his desire to deal with the police only through counsel, is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police.” Minnick v. Mississippi (1990), 498 U.S. 146, 150.[1]

“[T]o reduce the risk of a coerced confession and to implement the Self-Incrimination Clause, [the Supreme Court] in Miranda concluded that the accused must be adequately and effectively apprised of his rights and the exercise of those rights must be fully honored[.]” Missouri v. Seibert (2004), 542 U.S. 600, 608.

Miranda was a truly landmark case that altered the history of law enforcement in the country.  50 years later, current officers may not appreciate the history behind Miranda.  The philosophy behind Miranda has now been ingrained in the daily activities of all law enforcement officers and rightfully for the better.

[1] See also Doody v. Ryan (9th Cir. 2011), 649 F.3d 986, the Circuit Court determined that an Officers Mirandawarnings were defective.  “During his administration of the warnings, Detective Riley emphasized that Doody should not “take them out of context,” and implied to a juvenile, who had never heard of Miranda, that the warnings were just formalities. This misdirection was coupled with repeated assurances that the detectives did not necessarily suspect Doody of any wrongdoing. Most significantly, in informing Doody of the right to counsel, Detective Riley deviated from the form containing the juvenile Miranda warnings, and ad libbed that Doody had the right to counsel if Doody was involved in a crime. Indeed, Detective Riley instructed Doody that he had the right to counsel “if you were involved in it . . . but if you were, then that’s what that would apply to[.]” The implication from this improperly qualified, unclear, and confusing warning was that Doody only had the right to counsel if he were involved in a crime. In such a circumstance, the invocation of one’s right to counsel would be tantamount to admitting one’s involvement in a crime. Overall, the fact that Detective Riley’s explanation of a one-page Miranda warning form consumed twelve transcribed pages of text is a testament to the confusion generated by the detective’s obfuscation. When evaluated against clearly established Supreme Court precedent, the Miranda warnings were constitutionally deficient. At a minimum, Doody was never clearly and reasonably informed that he had the right to counsel.  The Miranda warnings provided to Doody were defective because Detective Riley downplayed the warnings’ significance, deviated from an accurate reading of the Miranda waiver form, and expressly misinformed Doody regarding his right to counsel.” Id.

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