You have the right to remain silent: History of the Miranda warning

You have the right to remain silent: History of the Miranda warning

“You have the right to remain silent….”

Most of us can recite the remainder of that statement by heart, even if we’ve never been arrested. It’s included in the script of every police drama and reality TV show dedicated to police procedure. What is not so well known is the story behind the so-called “Miranda” warnings.

The Miranda case

Ernesto Miranda was a 23-year-old Mexican who voluntarily entered a Phoenix police station in March 1963 to answer questions about a kidnapping and rape incident. The 17-year-old victim had given her brother a description of the attacker and a partial license plate number, which led to Miranda being identified and later questioned.

After he willingly took part in a police lineup, the police implied that he had been positively identified. At that point, he was still a person of interest and not officially under arrest. Alarmed, Miranda confessed after a two-hour interrogation, without the police informing him of his rights.

Primarily because of this confession, Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping in June 1963 and received a 20 to 30-year prison sentence. His defense team tried to overturn the conviction, based on the fact that police had not advised Miranda of his rights before questioning, but the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the verdict, pointing out that the defendant had signed a confession acknowledging that he understood his legal rights.

Miranda’s counsel refused to give up.  The matter made its way to the Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction on June 13, 1966. In its ruling Miranda v. Arizona, it specified guidelines for how suspects must be advised of their rights before arrest and interrogation. The person must be informed that:

  • They have the right to refuse to answer questions
  • Any statements they choose to make may later be used as evidence against them
  • They have the right to legal counsel
  • If they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them

This warning, known forever after as Miranda rights, contains elements of the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees protection from self-incrimination, and the Sixth Amendment, which refers to the right to counsel. Suspects are still protected by their Miranda rights even if they voluntarily waive them. For example, they can stop answering questions during interrogation and demand legal representation at any time.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Ernesto Miranda was retried, convicted once more, and imprisoned. Upon being paroled in 1972, he supported himself by selling autographed Miranda warning cards but soon returned to Arizona State Prison to serve another year for violating his parole. On January 31, 1976, not long after his release, Miranda was fatally stabbed in a Phoenix bar fight and died on arrival at Good Samaritan Hospital. No one remembered who he was until hospital staff found several signed Miranda warning cards on his person.

If you have been arrested or feel that you may be the subject of a criminal investigation, then it’s best to contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. Do not talk to others about your case. Julie Rendelman is an experienced attorney committed to assisting her clients and can advise you on how to proceed in a criminal case. As a former prosecutor, she is very familiar with the New York City criminal justice system and can explain your legal rights to you.  Ms. Rendelman offers free consultations. You may reach her office at 212-951-1232.