The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of our concepts of American criminal jurisprudence: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime.
To outsiders of the legal profession, the 33-word sentence above by Chief Justice Earl Warren may appear distant and unfamiliar. It certainly lacks the flourish of more memorable introductions, such as “We the People” or even “Four scores and seven years ago.” However, if books shouldn’t be judged by their covers, then Supreme Court decisions definitely shouldn’t be judged by their introductions, for the words that flowed from that opening sentence formed one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s more memorable judicial decisions.
These words opened Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 Supreme Court case that introduced the Miranda warning into the American lexicon. The following is an overview of Miranda v. Arizona and the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
Your Fifth Amendment Miranda Rights at a Glance
The so-called “Miranda warning,” which has been paraded through countless movies and T.V. crime dramas, basically warns people in police custody prior to an interrogation of their constitutional rights:
You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
You have the right to an attorney.
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
The sanction for failing to deliver a Miranda warning prior to a custodial interrogation is quite severe. It raises an irrebuttable presumption that statements made by a suspect during such an interrogation were involuntary. And, because the Fifth Amendment protects individuals from being “compelled in a criminal case to be a witness against himself,” a court will generally suppress a defendant’s statements obtained during such an interrogation at trial.
Miranda v. Arizona, the Fifth Amendment, and the Dickerson Case
Despite the seemingly entrenched position that the Miranda warning holds in our legal and popular culture, Dickerson v. United States, a case heard by the United States Supreme Court during the October 1999 term, threatened to unseat Miranda’s 30-year reign.
In Dickerson, the defendant Dickerson confessed to being the driver of a getaway car in a series of bank robberies. However, the District Court suppressed the defendant’s confession because it found that Dickerson made the statement “in police custody, in response to police interrogation, and without the necessary Miranda warnings.”
On appeal, one question before the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was whether 18 U.S.C.A. § 3501, a post-Miranda statute enacted by Congress as part of a larger bill in 1968, was constitutional. This statute states, in part, that “[i]n any criminal prosecution brought by the United States . . . a confession . . . shall be admissible in evidence if it is voluntarily given.” If this statute is constitutional, it would render the Miranda requirements for admissibility of statements void.
The Fourth Circuit made the following findings:
Congress has the power to overrule judicially created rules of evidence and procedures that aren’t required by the Constitution. Thus, whether Congress has the authority to enact the law depends on whether the rule set forth in Miranda is required by the Constitution.
At no point did the Court in Miranda refer to the warnings as constitutional rights. Indeed, the Court acknowledged that the Constitution didn’t require the warnings, referred to the warnings as “procedural safeguards,” and invited Congress and the states “to develop their own safeguards for [protecting] the privilege.”
Since deciding Miranda, the Court has consistently referred to the Miranda warnings as “prophylactic,” and “not themselves rights protected by the Constitution.”
Based on these findings, the Fourth Circuit held that “the admissibility of confessions in federal court is governed by § 3501, rather than the judicially created rule of Miranda.”
On June 26, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the Miranda decision. In Dickerson v. U.S., the Supreme Court held that Miranda, “being a constitutional decision of th[e] Court, may not be in effect overruled by an Act of Congress, …” The Court also declined to overrule Miranda itself, and declared “that Miranda and its progeny in this Court govern the admissibility of statements” made after an arrest.
Miranda v. Arizona and the Fifth Amendment: Related Resources
Miranda Warnings and Police Questioning
FAQs: Police Interrogations
Invoking the Right to Remain Silent