Miranda v. Arizona was a landmark decision, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966), in the field of CRIMINAL PROCEDURE. In Miranda, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a set of specific rights for criminal defendants. The Miranda warning, named after Ernesto Miranda, one of the petitioners in the case, is a list of rights that a law enforcement officer must read to anyone arrested for a criminal act.
Before the High Court's decision in Miranda, the law governing CUSTODIAL INTERROGATION of criminal suspects varied from state to state. In many states statements made by criminal defendants who were in custody and under interrogation by law enforcement officials were admissible at trial, even though the defendants had not been advised of their legal rights. If the totality of the circumstances surrounding the statements indicated that the suspect made the statements voluntarily, it did not matter that officers had not apprised the suspect of his legal rights.
The totality of the circumstances rule was effective even if a defendant was in custody. Generally a defendant was considered in custody if the person was not free to leave the presence of law enforcement officers. The basic legal rights for criminal defendants subjected to custodial interrogation included the FIFTH AMENDMENT right against SELF-INCRIMINATION and the RIGHT TO COUNSEL, this latter right established by the Court two years earlier in ESCOBEDO V. ILLINOIS, 378 U.S. 478, 84 S. Ct. 1758, 12 L. Ed. 2d 977 (1964).
The Miranda case involved four criminal defendants. Each of the defendants was appealing a conviction based in part on the failure of law enforcement officers to advise him, prior to custodial interrogation, of his right to an attorney or his right to remain silent.
Ernesto Miranda, the first defendant listed in the case, was arrested on March 18, 1963, at his home in Arizona and taken to a Phoenix police station. At the station witnesses identified Miranda as a rapist. Police then brought Miranda to an interrogation room where he was questioned by two police officers.
The officers did not tell Miranda that he had a right to an attorney, and Miranda confessed to the crime in two hours. Miranda wrote a confession on a piece of paper and signed the paper. At the top of the paper was a typed statement saying that Miranda had made the confession voluntarily and with full knowledge of his legal rights. Miranda was convicted of rape and KIDNAPPING in an Arizona state court. The circumstances involving the other three defendants were similar, all three confessing after a period of custodial interrogation without the assistance of legal counsel.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals from all four defendants, joining the appeals into a single review. A divided Court affirmed the California Supreme Court's decision against one of the defendants and reversed the guilty verdicts against Miranda and the other two.
The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice EARL WARREN, began with a review of POLICE INTERROGATION activities and a detailed formulation of new rules for law enforcement personnel.
The opening of the Miranda majority opinion set a grave tone:
The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots 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...