The Miranda rule is probably the rule of law most well known by the American public. We have seen it applied in all the television police shows and discussed in cases that are covered by the media. Simply put, an arresting officer must upon the arrest advise the person now in custody they have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, and that anything they say may be used against them at trial. Further, if they are not able to afford an attorney, the state will provide one, free of charge.
The rule is the subject of constant debate with supporters and critics. The United States Supreme Court which imposed the rule and deemed it a constitutional protection, has made it clear that it will not repeal the rule because of its long application and the doctrine of stare decisis. It was imposed in 1966 in the case known as Miranda v. Arizona.
However, the United States Supreme Court has over the years reduced the affect of Miranda by defining the conditions of custody more narrowly. Law enforcement officials need not warn an individual being interrogated of Miranda rights while he or she is free to leave at any time. The US Supreme Court has over the years reduced the situations under which the Miranda warnings are required to be given.
The New York Times in an editorial on March 6th opposed the weakening of the Miranda rule, stating, “The Supreme Court recently did significant damage to the Miranda rule, which requires that suspects in custody be told of their right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present, and that any statements they make could be used against them in criminal proceedings. Without these warnings, statements made are inadmissible as evidence, the court said in the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona, because ‘the very fact of custodial interrogation exacts a heavy toll on individual liberty, and trades on the weaknesses of individuals.’ That is exactly the principle violated by the court’s new ruling in Howes v. Fields. The case involved Randall Lee Fields, who was in jail in Michigan for disorderly conduct, was interrogated by sheriffs there and, based on what he said, was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison for a sex crime. The court’s 6-to-3 majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito Jr., said that Mr. Fields should not be considered in ‘custody’ for Miranda purposes because a person already in jail is not shocked and coercible as someone newly arrested might be; cannot be induced to speak in hopes of being released; and does not worry that a sentence will be lengthened if he does not cooperate. Mr. Fields was not threatened or physically restrained and ‘was told at the outset of the interrogation, and reminded thereafter, that he was free to leave and could go back to his cell whenever he wanted,’ Justice Alito wrote.”
I have never understood why the Miranda rule was ever imposed by the US Supreme Court. A significant number of people committing crimes want to confess their guilt. Why in the world do we want to inhibit them from doing so? Even where the Miranda warning is provided, there are large numbers of putative defendants who will proceed to confess their wrongdoing. Isn’t that good? It certainly is good for society. Of course, if the confession is forcibly obtained – physical duress in any form – it should be excluded. But if voluntary, why not use it in the trial that follows? I have always believed the supporters of maintaining the rule do so because they believe it is unfair that because a smart criminal would never confess, whether or not they were warned under Miranda, we are taking advantage of the less intelligent or less informed criminal who gives in to the normal impulse that many people have, which is to get their guilt off their chest and confess to the comforting police officer who tells them their confession and cooperation could help them at sentencing.
But the uncovering of crimes and the use of confessions when obtained without physical force is helpful to our society. That is why the US Supreme Court, while mindful of another concept – stare decisis – earlier court decisions be respected and applied – are whittling down the circumstances when the Miranda warning and stare decisis doctrine should apply.
Of course individual rights should be protected, but so should the right of society to be protected from criminals be a priority. In my judgment, with respect to Miranda, it should simply be dropped by the US supreme Court, instead of the courts finding ways to limit its use.
I believe all police and district attorney interrogations of “persons of interest” relating to a criminal investigation should be videotaped if possible and when not possible, audiotaped.