The Supreme Court of the United States requires police officers to read Miranda warnings before interrogating a citizen. Miranda is so well known that nearly everyone can quote some or all of the required warning.
- You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will, be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to talk to a lawyer . . . And on it goes.
Miranda warnings serve to remind people that they don’t have to speak to the police. But too many people don’t understand their rights under Miranda. And many more people don’t use their rights.
This article is the first of a three-part series on Miranda. Part one will teach you about Miranda’s beginning. Part two will teach you about your rights. And, part three will teach you how to use your rights as well as when exceptions apply.
Constitutional rights and the Supreme Court’s role.
Suspected criminals have had the right to remain silent, and the right to an attorney since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. The Fifth Amendment protects our right to remain silent. The Sixth Amendment protects our right to legal counsel.
For many years though, there was no clear consensus about how those rights applied to individual suspects. Thankfully, the Supreme Court of the United States came to the rescue. The SCOTUS helps by taking cases that allow it to define our Constitutional rights. In fact, all of our Constitutional rights go through the same sort of “defining” process.
You can thank the Supreme Court for many privileges that we take for granted on a daily basis. Women, are you happy about your right to buy birth control? Thank a Supreme Court Justice. Are you happy that you can openly criticize the President and other elected officials? Thank a Supreme Court Justice. If you are happy about the right to practice your religion or marry whomever you want, then you should thank a Supreme Court Justice!
Our whole system of laws is created in a sort of guess-and-check system. Lawmakers do their best to stay within the bounds of the Constitution when they write the laws. But, sometimes they get it wrong. When that happens, citizens must challenge the law or its application through the courts. If a case makes it to the Supreme Court, the SCOTUS can change, uphold, or strike down the challenged law. Once the Constitutional right is further defined, lawmakers must work to write new laws that fit within the new definition.
It should be noted that our Miranda rights do not protect our Sixth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court recognized a Fifth Amendment right to counsel during custodial interrogation in Miranda v. Arizona.
Miranda v. Arizona
The Supreme Court actually decided four cases when it issued the holding in Miranda v. Arizona. In each of the four cases, police officers interrogated suspects without telling them about their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. The police held the suspects in police custody (remember this) and interviewed them with the specific goal of getting a confession.
In Miranda, the Supreme Court decided whether or not the State could use the suspect’s confessions as evidence in court.
The SCOTUS found that the methods used to get the confession overcame the suspects will to remain silent. The Court discussed the history of unsavory police tactics used to secure confessions. It also recognized that modern interrogation methods rely mostly on psychological stress and not physical brutality.
To combat coercive interview tactics, the Supreme Court held that suspects must be informed of their rights before police begin in-custody questioning. Suspects need Miranda warnings to make them aware of their rights under the Constitution. They also need Miranda warnings to learn the consequences of waiving their rights.
Finally, the Court held that prosecutors must overcome the “heavy burden” of showing that a defendant waived his Constitutional rights if the police secure a confession without first telling defendants about their rights.
Come back for Know Your Rights, Use Your Rights: Miranda Warnings Part 2 to learn about your Constitutional rights under Miranda.