Miranda v Arizona, 1966

The Courts decision in Escobed v. Illinois, 1964 held that a confession cannot be used against a defendant if it was obtained by police who refused to allow the defendant to see his attorney and did not tell him that he had a right to refuse to answer their questions.

In a truly historic decision, the Court refined the Escobedo holding in Miranda v. Arizona, 1966.  A mentally retarded man, Ernest Miranda, had been convicted of kidnapping and rape.  Ten days after the crime, the victim picked Miranda out of a police lineup.  After two hours of questioning, during which the police did not tell him of his rights, Miranda confessed.

The Supreme Court struck down Miranda’s conviction.  More importantly, the Court said that it would no longer uphold convictions in any cases in which suspects had not been told of their constitutional rights before police questioning.  It thus laid down the Miranda Rule.  Under the rule, before police may question a suspect, that person must be:

1.       Told of his or her right to remain silent;

2.       Warned that anything he or she says can be used in court;

3.       Informed of the right to have an attorney present during questioning;

4.       Told that if he or she is unable to hire an attorney, one will be provided at public expense.

5.       Told that he or she may bring police questioning to an end at any time.


The Miranda Rule has been in force for 40 years now (and made famous by countless televisions dramas over that period.)  As the Court put it in Dickerson v. United States 2000, the rule “has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture.”


The Supreme Court is still refining the rule on a case-by-case basis.  Most often the rule is closely followed.  But there are exceptions.  Thus, the Court has held that an undercover police officer posing as a prisoner does not have to tell a cell made of his Miranda rights before prompting him to talk about a murder, “Illinois v. Perkins, 1990.


Missouri v. Seibert, 2004, centered on what lately had become fairly common police practice:  two-step interrogations also known as “rehearsed confessions.”  Here, police officers had questioned Patrice Seibert, drawing out details of the fire she had set to cover up the murder of her son. Then, she was told of her Miranda rights—and questioned again.  That second round was taped, and she was asked questions based on the incriminating statements she had made in the first—un-taped, unwarned—round.  She confessed again.


The Supreme Court found that her confession had been coerced and so was invalid.  It was  struck down the two-step practice, saying that it threatened the very purpose of Miranda.


The Miranda Rule has always been controversial.  Critics say that it “puts criminals back on the streets.”  Others applaud the rule, however.  They hold that criminal law enforcement is most effective when it relies on independently secured evidence, rather than on confessions gained by questionable tactics from defendants who do not have the help of a lawyer.


Complete the organizer  to help you answer the following question:


How does the Supreme Court interpret the 5th Amendment in Miranda v Arizona?