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


Judge Earl Warren, author. U.S. Reports: Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). 1966. U.S. Reports. Law Library of Congress.

Decided June 13, 1966, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. With Chief Justice Earl Warren presiding, the Court held that—at the point of interrogation and while in police custody—“there can be no doubt that the Fifth Amendment privilege is available outside of criminal court proceedings and serves to protect persons in all settings in which their freedom of action is curtailed in any significant way from being compelled to incriminate themselves.” Therefore, “the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates that use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.”

Today, most Americans, young and old, recognize the prelude to an arrest by these now indelible words: “You have the right to remain silent . . .” Immortalized by popular culture, the Miranda warning bears a seemingly timeless air wherein it appears as if it were always part of the process of detaining an individual. Popular culture would also lead us to believe that there is one single script for the warning. The reality is that every U.S. jurisdiction has designated its own specifications with respect to the message that must be conveyed to a person upon his or her arrest or custodial interrogation. The particular situations of individual states has given rise to the customization of the wording to the warning. In the case of states that border Mexico, people who are apprehended and believed to be non-U.S. citizens are provided an additional warning: “If you are not a United States citizen, you may contact your country’s consulate prior to any questioning.” Some states, with the aim of complying with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, add questions concerning understanding—as it is likely that a foreigner may have difficulties understanding his/her rights if they do not speak English.

The decision that gave rise to the Miranda warning and the verb “Mirandize” was preserved in the U.S. law that followed the Supreme Court’s ruling, which found that the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of Ernesto Arturo Miranda were violated at the moment of his arrest and trial. The decision may have also incited similar protections issued in many jurisdictions throughout the world. Some jurisdictions with right-to-silence provisions include New Zealand, Israel, Hong Kong, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, France, England, and the European Union, among others. The Justices of the Supreme Court comprising the majority were Chief Justice Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan, and Abe Fortas. Those dissenting included John M. Harlan II, Potter Stewart, Byron White, and Tom C. Clark.