On June 13, 1966, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a landmark 5:4 ruling, upheld the fundamental right of a human being to be reminded of the right to silence and effective legal counsel when charged with an offence. The case of Ernersto Miranda v. Arizona altered the criminal justice system in the U.S. forever.
Ernesto Miranda was arrested on March 13, 1963, by the Phoenix Police Department on charges of the kidnap and rape of a 17-year-old girl. The charges were based on circumstantial evidence and after two hours of interrogation, Mr. Miranda signed a statement confessing to the charge of rape and stating further that he had signed the confession voluntarily, without coercion, and after a full understanding of his legal rights.
During trial however, the defence attorney argued that at no point of time had Mr. Miranda been made aware of his right to remain silent or to have an attorney present during interrogation, both of which are part of the Fifth Amendment to the American Constitution. Mr. Miranda was convicted on the basis of the signed confession. He then appealed the trial court’s decision to include the confession as evidence, before the Supreme Court of Arizona. The Court dismissed the appeal, emphasising that Mr. Miranda never specifically asked for legal representation.
By this time, the publicity generated in this case had reached the far corners of the country. When the Supreme Court of the United States of America heard the case, it was obvious that the matter was more important than the charge of kidnapping and rape. The future of civil liberties, as espoused by the American Bill of Rights, was to be secured through the judgment that followed.
The Supreme Court held that “the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way, unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination.”
Miranda’s conviction was overturned and ever since that day, to be “Mirandi-zed”, is a fundamental right of every person charged of an offence on American soil.
(Suhasini Rao Kashyap is part of the faculty on myLaw.net.)