Friday, July 1, 2016

Guest Column: It’s time to take another look at the Miranda ruling

Matthew T. Mangino
Delaware County Daily Times, Guest Columnist
June 28, 2016
Fifty years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona that police officers are required to inform a suspect that he has the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel when being questioned. Those rights have evolved overtime and not necessarily for the better.
The landmark Supreme Court decision has become a part of American culture. Miranda’s conversion from legal holding to cultural icon is due mainly to the nation’s insatiable appetite for television crime dramas. Everyone with a TV has heard Miranda warnings.
What did Miranda do to earn his place in the American consciousness? In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested for robbery. While in the midst of a custodial interrogation by police he confessed to raping an 18 year-old woman. At trial, prosecutors offered his confession into evidence. Miranda was convicted of rape and sentenced to prison. He appealed and his case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Miranda and excluded his confession. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the court’s opinion finding a confession would be barred under the Fifth and Sixth amendments unless a suspect had been made aware of his rights and the suspect had waived them. Warren made it clear, “If the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease ... If the individual states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present.”
As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of Miranda, it is important to note that the U.S. Supreme Court has continually tested, and at times, expanded and restricted, the decision.
For instance, in 1981 the Edwards rule was established. The court held once an accused invoked his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation a valid waiver of that right could not be later established. The rule created a presumption that once a suspect invoked his right to the presence of counsel pursuant to Miranda, any waiver of that right in response to a subsequent police attempt at custodial interrogation was involuntary.
That changed in 2010. In a case out of Maryland, the court established a bright-line rule finding if at least 14 days passed from the time the suspect invoked his rights under Miranda the police could again initiate an interrogation of the suspect.
Although the Miranda warnings are etched in nearly everyone’s consciousness, the Supreme Court found that the police do not have to use those magical words to get the point across. In a 2010 case out of Florida, the court said as long as the rights are articulated to a suspect in a reasonable manner and the rights are understood they are sufficient. The rights that most of us can recite by rote do not need to be conveyed by the police with any precision.
Finally in 2013, in a case out of Texas, a murder suspect who answered questions for almost an hour was then asked by police if the shotgun shells found at the murder scene would match a shotgun found in his home. The suspect stopped talking.
The police made notes of his conduct once he stopped talking. According to the Supreme Court, the suspect “[l]ooked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, cl[e]nched his hands in his lap, [and] began to tighten up.”
That conduct was used at his trial as evidence that he was hiding his guilt. The Supreme Court found that silence is not enough to invoke the right to remain silent. For purpose of the Fifth Amendment, silence isn’t what it used to be.
Miranda has been revered for half a century. The decision, which outlined specific rules for those accused of a crime, has evolved into a nuanced set of standards that can lure the unsophisticated person into a false sense of constitutional protection.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. in New Castle, Pa. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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