Interrogations through miranda & sixth amendment rights
IN 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided a case that established the yardstick in determining the propriety and regularity of a person’s arrest and placement under custody. The case of Miranda vs. Arizona that has since evolved into a doctrine in constitutional law, particularly in the field of the Bill of Rights and criminal procedure, continues to serve as the citizen’s primary safeguard against self-incrimination.
Due to this long-standing jurisprudence, police authorities have taken great caution in eliciting extra-judicial confessions and statements from suspects and prosecutors have taken heed of the implications of the absence of the so-called Miranda warnings. In the succeeding paragraphs, focus will be made as to when and how the doctrine and principle laid down by the High Court in this case is being used today in criminal prosecution as well as the “gray” or probable areas of contention.
The origins of a doctrine
Sometime in 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona. He was identified through a police line-up and after two hours of police custody, he was charged of rape and kidnapping apparently from previous acts. At any time throughout the duration of his interrogation, he was neither informed of his right against self-incrimination nor was he allowed the presence of and the assistance of his attorney as guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution, respectively.
Being placed under hostile conditions, the poor Mexican immigrant was coerced into a written confession for his charges. This confession was then used by the prosecution during the trial which resulted in conviction of guilt on the charges.
On appeal, the defense argued that had Ernesto Miranda been properly and promptly informed of his rights as an accused, he would not have confessed to the crime for which he was incarcerated. As the records reveal, the police admits that they never informed Miranda of his constitutional rights since they assumed that he being previously convicted, would have already been aware of the consequences and implications of his admissions. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled against the appeal.
In 1965, the case was elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court and was decided along with four other cases bearing the same issues. In deciding the case, the Court reversed the Arizona ruling and said that any evidence or confession obtained during custodial investigations in absence of notice to the accused of his right to remain silent and to counsel shall be inadmissible as evidence against him. The establishment of this exclusionary rule of evidence was closely decided in favor of the accused.
From a simpler point of view, the case addressed the important role of the police in the arrest of accused. More importantly, it established the guarantee of respect for a person’s right in the administration of law and order.
Pursuant to the ratio decidendi of the case, there are three main reasons why statements taken from an accused in a police-dominated environment if he or she is not informed of the right to remain silent are excluded by the law: first, it negates the probability that any form of compulsion is used in eliciting any statement from the accused; second, to ensure compliance by police authorities with their duty of informing persons arrested of their rights; and third, to discourage undesirable compulsive techniques and methods employed by some authorities in coercing confessions and admissions from suspects.
It should be considered that this exclusionary rule only applies if the accused knows the person interrogating him or her to be a government agent.
Going deeper into discussion, it appears logical to determine at what particular stage of an arrest the doctrine takes its effect. As determined by jurisprudence, the Miranda doctrine applies only when there is an arrest and that the accused is subjected to interrogation by the police authorities during such period.
Following this argument, one is therefore inclined to ask: when is there an arrest? An arrest may be defined as the “deprivation of a person of his liberty by legal authority. Thus, any form of deprivation of liberty of a person by the authorities will be considered under the law as being under custody. On the other hand, custodial interrogation means “questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after person is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom in any significant way.
A subjective analysis of this issue of custody will allow us to determine whether the accused was free to leave such custody at his will and pleasure and as to whether or not the arresting officers intend to keep the accused against his wishes. A mere invitation for questioning without any coercive element cannot place the doctrine into effect in this jurisdiction.
On the other hand, the objective approach allows more leeway as it relieves the court of the cumbersome duty of determine what the parties think and merely focuses on what would a reasonable man do in such a case. The Court uses the latter approach.
Attention is now diverted to the issue on interrogation or that stage in criminal prosecution that constitutes any form of direct questioning concerning a crime by the police authorities. It is at this stage that a slew of controversies may arise as police authorities continue to discover and resort to innovative and ingenious ways of squeezing information from suspects and witnesses.
In considering whether there is already an interrogation being conducted, it will be useful to determine the factors such as the reasonable likelihood of that the questioning will result in an incriminating response, the intent of the questioning officer, its connection to the crime, the familiarity of the officer with the suspect, and the accusations made against the accused.
So closely contested was the Miranda case by the members of the Supreme Court that it sprung several dissenting opinions from the justices that voted against. The decision was criticized until the present for its soft approach on criminal justice.
In his book Guilty: The Collapse of Criminal Justice, Harold Rothwax wrote that this philosophy “has resulted in a system where we deny people the opportunity to take responsibility for their criminal acts.” According to Rothwax, only a crazy person would admit to criminal guilt.
An article by The Washington Post back in December 12, 1999 writes only the most hardened criminals, due mainly with their familiarity with the system, invokes this doctrine. For the less heinous offenders, the reading of the Miranda rights is a mere additional ritual to “putting on the handcuffs and making the trip to the station.”
Looking from the other side of the fence, some are less cynical, if not grateful for the benefits that the doctrine has provided. The Economist in its December 1999 issue wrote that “there is little evidence that a significant number of guilty people are going free because of the Miranda warning.” This was credited to the fact that as a natural reaction to an alarming situation, persons arrested fail to maintain their silence and request for counsel.
For some groups, the ruling in the Miranda case strengthened the citizens’ fidelity on a fair and just criminal justice system. The doctrine will also promote honesty among criminals to confess to their crimes, thereby facilitating for their fast reformation as well as benefit the members of the jury as it increases the probability that a true and accurate account of the facts will be presented during trials. In his article, William G. Otis wrote that “a society that beats confessions out of suspects has lost its morals. But a society that rejects a suspect’s voluntarily given confession has lost its marbles.” Thus, the invocation of the doctrine as a rule of excluding vital evidence must be taken with extreme caution and reason as too lenient application of the rule may allow the guilty to go free on a mere technicality.
Miranda and the 6th Amendment
In the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, who himself was a former public prosecutor, the majority in the Miranda case spoke that “the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.”
The case takes into consideration the imbalance in status and power between the State and the person and recognizes the advantage that the former has over the latter. To ensure that the State and its agents do not exploit this advantage, the Bill of Rights was infused into the Constitution to provide guarantees against possible abuses by the government of its vast powers and resources in coercing its constituents into submission to its will and pleasure to the detriment and mockery of justice and fair play.
Considering the complexity of the law and of legal procedures, a layman cannot be expected to fully appreciate the impact or the consequences of his statements, most especially when he or she is faced with the possibility of facing imprisonment of the crime. Recognizing the need to assist suspects as well as to protect them from themselves and from unnecessary police harassments, the 6th amendment was enacted into our Bill of Rights such that a person will be convicted solely on his guilt and the upon the evidence that may be adduced by the prosecution and not merely because he or she does not know how to defend himself under the law.
Florida’s take on the Miranda Rights
In 2005, Florida congressmen sponsored a bill that sought to protect victims of crimes by compelling the courts to inform them of their rights in every stage of the proceedings.
HB 1209 has already been unanimously approved by the House Judicial Oversight Committee in February of that year seeks to impose upon judges the duty to inform a crime victim of their (1) right to be informed; (2) right to be present; (3) right to be heard; (4) right to receive advance notification; (5) right to seek crimes compensation and restitution; (6) right to consult with the state attorney’s office; and (7) the right to make an oral or written victim-impact statement at the time of sentencing a defendant. In such an instance, the failure of the presiding judge to make such notice to the victim will not affect the validity of any of the aspects of the proceedings.
The bill has received support from support from the Governor’s legal office as well as various sectors of the Florida community including the Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Florida Network of Victim Witness Services. In fact, the Senate version has already been heard by the Criminal Justice committee. The bill is still pending approval in Congress.
HB 1209 is reflective of the sentiments of Florida natives on the treatment of criminal acts. In protecting the rights of the victims, they seek to equalize the apparent advantage in rights of the accused which as of the present are more than those of the victim. From a certain point of view, the present legal system in the country seems be overcautious in prosecuting persons as it would rather let a guilty man go free than sending an innocent man to jail. But from the standpoint of Florida representatives, it appears that they seek to take away the seemingly undue advantage that the defense has over the prosecution. From their side of the fence, it’s about time to worry more about the victims of crimes than protecting suspected criminals.
But until the doctrine in the Miranda case has been overturned, the principles laid down in the case will continue to protect the citizens, whether they may be proven guilty or not as what the U.S. Supreme Court has promulgated. Even the most earnest desire to see that justice is serve if done in wanton disregard for the constitutional rights of other people particularly their right against self-incrimination and to the assistance of counsel, will not justify the transgression that police authorities will do upon the supreme law of the land to which all other laws must bow down to: the Constitution.
The Miranda Rights and the guarantee provided by the 6th Amendment are both pursuant to due process and in the spirit of justice and fair play. For in this land of the free, no person shall ever be deprived of their life, their liberty, and their property without the observance of due process of law.
1. The United States Constitution
2. Henry C. Black, M.A. (1990). Black’s Law Dictionary 6th edition. St. Paul, Minn., West Publishing Co.’s
3. The case of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436
4. Rothwax, Harold. (1996). Guilty: The Collapse of Criminal Justice. New York: Random House
5. Coughlin, Anne M. (12 December 1999). Miranda Only Works for the Usual Suspects. The Washington Post
6. The Economist (1999). A Pillar of the Law Assailed. volume no. 353 issue no. 8149
7. Otis, William G. (24 November 1999). Miranda: Morals and Marbles. The Washington Post
8. The website of landmark cases.org
9. The website of The Florida Bar News
 Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436
 “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” (Ratified December 15, 1791)
 “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, to be confronted with the witnesses against him, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” (Ratified December 15, 1791)
 Landmarkcases.org, (2007). MIRANDA v. ARIZONA: A PRIMER, Constitutional Foundations of Miranda. Retrieved October 31, 2007, from landmarkcases.org
 Henry C. Black, M.A. (1990). Black’s Law Dictionary 6th edition. St. Paul, Minn., West Publishing Co.
 Ibid, page 4
 Ibid, page 1
 Rothwax, Harold. (1996). Guilty: The Collapse of Criminal Justice. New York: Random House, p. 79.
 Coughlin, Anne M. (12 December 1999). Miranda Only Works for the Usual Suspects. The Washington Post. B1
 The Economist (1999). A Pillar of the Law Assailed. v 353 i8149 p. 23
 Otis, William G. (24 November 1999). Miranda: Morals and Marbles. The Washington Post: A23.
 Ibid, page 1
 The Florida Bar News (2005). Crime victim bill gets hearing. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from The Florida Bar News
Web site: http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/JNNews01.nsf/cb53c80c8fabd49d85256b5900678f6c/36aba57b93f731f885256b6b0050c3f2?OpenDocument