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Miranda v. Arizona: The Rights to Justice (March 13, 1963 – June 13, 1966)


The below documents are primary source materials from the Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona, including correspondence, pleadings, and memoranda. These records are maintained by the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Jerome B. Falk, Cert. Memo (1965)

Jerome B. Falk, author. Cert. Memo: Miranda v. Arizona to Arizona Supreme Court [PDF]. 1965. William O. Douglas Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

As demonstrated in this 1965 cert. memo, the law clerk for Justice William O. Douglas, Jerome B. Falk, pointed to the case’s relationship to Escobedo v. Illinois (1964). Falk noted that the appeal of the Arizona Supreme Court ruling was made possible due to the earlier decision. In addition, Miranda’s mental capacity also played a role in the Court’s decision to hear the case: “[T]here is no possibility of anyone seriously arguing that this Petr. [petitioner] clearly knew of his rights, since he is ill-educated and apparently mentally unstable.” Other factors that weighed favorably toward hearing the case included that there was no doubt “as to whether the accused was warned of his right to counsel or not,” and that the case would be “argued by competent counsel—John P. Frank,” who represented Ernesto Miranda.

Bench Memo, Escobedo Case (1965)

Bench Memo, Escobedo Case: No. 419 Misc., 1965 Term Miranda v. Arizona [PDF]. c. 1965. William O. Douglas Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

The present bench memo contains some of the highlights of the Escobedo v. Illinois case, 378 U.S. 478 (1964). Escobedo v. Illinois was one of the cases referenced when Miranda v. Arizona was argued before the Supreme Court due to similar circumstances. In Escobedo v. Illinois, the U.S. Supreme Court held that suspects had a right to legal representation at the time of police interrogations as a provision of the Sixth Amendment. Like Miranda, Escobedo was argued before the Warren Supreme Court.

J. Edgar Hoover, Memorandum to Solicitor General (1966)

J. Edgar Hoover, author. Memorandum to Solicitor General: Interview and Confessions, Warning of Rights, March 2, 1966 [PDF]. 1966. Thurgood Marshall Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

At the time of Miranda v. Arizona, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall served as Solicitor general and would make the final arguments before the Court, asserting essentially that the federal government lacked the resources to supply counsel to all defendants requiring one. Here, J. Edgar Hoover responds to the request of Justice Abe Fortas regarding federal law relating to indigent defendants and the right to counsel. The F.B.I. standard proved to be influential in the thinking of several of the Justices in the majority. According to the F.B.I. standard, federal defendants were informed of their "right to free counsel if they [were] unable to pay, and the availability of such counsel from the Judge.”

Clinton E. Riggs, Letter to Thurgood Marshall (1966)

Clinton E. Riggs, author. Letter to Thurgood Marshall [PDF]. 1966. Thurgood Marshall Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Law enforcement officials were openly concerned about the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Miranda v. Arizona. Tulsa Police Department Administration Chief Clinton Riggs thanks Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall for his brief concerning law enforcement. “I don’t write many fan letters but I want to compliment you on your brief concerning police questioning of suspects.” He and others believe the law had leaned too far in one direction. “I have wondered when the trend would be reversed and we might return to a system that concerns itself with the protection of society and the rights of victims of crimes as well as the rights of the individual.”

William O. Douglas, Letter to Abe Fortas (1966)

William O. Douglas, author. Letter to Abe Fortas [PDF]. 1966. William O. Douglas Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

In this letter between Justices William O. Douglas and Abe Fortas, the former relates to the latter a conversation he had with former Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed at a then-recent Gridiron Dinner regarding the “various phases of the problem presented in this type of case.” Reed suggested to Douglas that the Court follow the ruling in California v. Stewart, one of three other cases attached to the Miranda decision. Douglas himself states his belief that the issue at the heart of the case “pertains to the right to counsel” rather than to a “coerced confession.” The correspondence demonstrates the various ways Justices consider cases and how past and present members of the Court can interact in real time over relevant rulings of the day.

William O. Douglas, Conference Memo (1966)

William O. Douglas, author. Conference Memo: No. 759 Miranda v. Arizona [PDF]. 1966. William O. Douglas Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Justice Douglas often took copious notes during conference meetings. Miranda v. Arizona proved no exception. Despite Douglas’s somewhat unruly handwriting, his notes illustrate the thought processes of the Justices as they debated the case’s merits. Chief Justice Earl Warren explains his belief that the case hinges on the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and that it is not simply a problem of “legislation only.” Brennan concurred with Warren and encouraged the burgeoning majority not to limit the decision to the three cases attached to Miranda v. Arizona. It also demonstrates the influence of other cases and legal precedents on the thinking of the Justices in the majority—including Hugo Black’s reference to Magna Carta on subsequent pages of Justice Douglas’s notes.

William J. Brennan, Memorandum to Earl Warren (1966)

William J. Brennan, author. Memorandum to Earl Warren: Re: 759, 760, 761, and 584 [PDF]. 1966. Earl Warren Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Chief Justice Warren took the lead in drafting the majority opinion and circulated it to the Justices. Brennan, who agreed with much of Warren’s argument, did have reservations regarding some of its language and conclusions. In this 21-page memorandum, Brennan lays out his various concerns including that Warren’s draft failed to give “Congress and the States latitude to devise other means,” that California v. Stewart offered a productive way forward, and Warren’s categorization of police brutality as a racial issue: “I wonder if it is appropriate in this context to turn police brutality into a racial problem. If anything characterized the groups this opinion concerns it is poverty more than race.” Brennan also identifies various cases that he sees as related to Miranda, including Rogers v. United States (1951); Escobedo v. Illinois (1964); Malloy v. Hogan (1964); Freedman v. Maryland (1965); and Mapp v. Ohio (1961), among others.

William J. Brennan, Draft of Concurrence (1966)

William J. Brennan, author. Draft of Concurrence [PDF]. 1966. William J. Brennan Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

According to legal historians Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel, Brennan drafted this concurrence to Miranda as a response to Justice John Harlan’s dissent. After showing it to the Chief Justice before circulating it, Warren expressed “misgivings” regarding its potential filing and Brennan agreed to not submit it. The concurrence might have led to “a confusing medley of fifty different state formulations” regarding the rights of the accused upon arrest rather than the now famous and widely recognized standardized Miranda warning. “Obviously, I would have been just dead wrong,” Brennan said later. “Thank heavens I woke up.”

Hugo L. Black, Letter to Earl Warren (1966)

Hugo L. Black, author. Letter to Earl Warren, May 18, 1966 [PDF]. 1966. Earl Warren Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

In this May 18 letter to Chief Justice Warren from Justice Hugo L. Black, the latter reiterates Brennan’s concern about Warren’s use of race. “[I]t struck me that some of the Court’s critics would immediately say that our holding is but another phase of your racial question, when of course that is not true at all.” In addition, Black struggling to reconcile his own beliefs about civil rights and the history of the South took issue with Warren’s reference to “Southern States” fearing it would likely be over-emphasized by many as an indication that “what we are doing is to attack the South.” The correspondence further illustrates the process by which the decision and its parameters came into focus.

Earl Warren, Draft Majority Opinion

Earl Warren, author. Draft Majority Opinion: Miranda v. Arizona [PDF]. 1966. Earl Warren Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

The fourteenth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Earl Warren, took the lead in drafting the majority opinion. In these introductory pages, evidently with great consideration to the setting and the mindset of the suspect, as a citizen, the temperament and thinking that imbued the decision are quite clear: “All these policies point to one overriding thought: the constitutional foundation underlying the privilege is the respect a government—state or federal—must accord to the dignity and integrity of its citizens [. . .] to respect the inviolability of the human personality, our accusatory system of criminal justice demands that the government seeking to punish an individual produce the evidence against him by its own independent labors, rather than by cruel, simple expedient of compelling it from his own mouth.” The majority opinion was one of a group of four similar cases. The decision established that before a defendant’s statement to police could be admitted into evidence, the prosecution had to prove that the defendant was informed of his right to legal representation and of his right against self-incrimination, now referred to as “Miranda rights” and/or “Miranda warning.”

Byron White, Draft of Dissent (1966)

Byron White, author. Draft of Dissent: Miranda v. Arizona [PDF]. 1966. Byron White Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

In his time on the Court, Justice Byron White formulated an individualistic view of rights and came to oppose “substantive due process,” the idea that “the government must respect the fundamental civil rights of all persons, even if a specific right is not mentioned directly in the Constitution.” In this early draft of perhaps his second most famous dissent (the other being in Roe v. Wade, 1973), White took issue with Warren’s broad definition of “self-incrimination,” believing that it only applied to courtroom testimony. As noted in White’s hand on page 13, “More than the human dignity of the accused is involved; the human personality of others in the society must also be preserved.” It would be this aspect of White’s dissent that would be expressed by citizens and other observers most often in their disagreement with the majority decision. Justices John Harlan, Tom Clark, and Potter Stewart would join or concur in the dissent.

Raymond J. Messner, Letter to the Supreme Court of the United States (1966)

Raymond J. Messner, author. Letter to the Supreme Court of the United States [PDF]. 1966. Hugo L. Black Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

The letter seen here represents the predominant proportion of mail received by the Justices in the majority, or at least those appearing in each collection. Though letters supporting the decision can be found, a great number represent the sentiments of Mr. Messner, who argued that the Court cared more about protecting “the suspected criminal . . . with never a thought to protecting society and the innocent victims of these atrocious crimes.” Written during the height of the Cold War, it also makes mention of communism and the Soviet threat.

Ralph Berry, Letter to William J. Brennan (1966)

Ralph Berry, author. Letter to William J. Brennan [PDF]. 1966. William J. Brennan Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Unsurprisingly, many law enforcement officials responded negatively to the ruling. “Insofar as I am concerned, your decision will do nothing but permit rapists, persons molesting minor children, murderers, robbers, and burglars to have an opportunity to escape any punishment for their crimes," wrote Terra Haute, Indiana Prosecuting Attorney Ralph Berry. “I feel certain that the old-time anarchists of fifty years ago would feel that you were helping to achieve their ultimate goals.” Berry concluded that he was encouraged by the fact “the two judges who have had some experience with law enforcement were on the dissentient side.” However, as Justice Hugo Black pointed out in a responding letter, both he and Earl Warren had a great deal of experience as prosecutors for the state: Black as a police court judge and Assistant to the United States Attorney General and Warren as Attorney General of California. Fifty years after the ruling, law enforcement agencies across the nation now support the Miranda warning.

Postcard, “Save Our Republic: Impeach Earl Warren” (1966)

Postcard, “Save Our Republic: Impeach Earl Warren [PDF]. 1966. Hugo L. Black Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

This postcard written to Justice Hugo L. Black during the height of the Cold War states: “You and your cohorts should be impeached for your pro-Communist pro-Criminal decisions of recent years. Because of your decision banning confessions, the admitted murderess of her 4 year old is now free to kill again. Are you proud of your misinterpretations of the Constitution?” signed Mrs. Margie N. Kerner, Fullerton, California.