Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Point of Law - Miranda Rights

The principles of Miranda Rights was founded upon the landmark case law of Miranda v. Arizona (1966). The facts of the case was that on 13 March 1963, cash of US$8 was stolen from a bank worker from Phoenix, Arizona. The police suspected and arrested Ernesto Miranda for committing the theft. During the two-hours or so of questioning, Miranda, who was never offered a lawyer, confessed not only to the US$8 theft, but also confessed to the kidnapping and raping of an 18-year-old woman just 11 days earlier. As a result, based largely on his confession, Miranda was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Miranda's lawyers appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On 13 June 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court, in deciding on the case reversed the Arizona Court's decision, and granted Miranda a new trial at which his prior confession could not be admitted as evidence, and thereby established the Miranda Rights of persons accused of crimes.

Although the exact wording of the Miranda Rights statements were not specified in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, the respective law enforcement agencies have created a basic set of simple statements that could be read to the suspects prior to any questioning. These statements are as follows:

1. You have the right to remain silent.
The U.S. Supreme Court: "At the outset, if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent."

2. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.
The U.S. Supreme Court: "The warning of the right to remain silent must be accompanied by the explanation that anything said can and will be used against the individual in court."

3. You have the right to have an attorney present now and during any future questioning.
The U.S. Supreme Court: "...the right to have counsel present at the interrogation is indispensable to the protection of the Fifth Amendment privilege under the system we delineate today. ... [Accordingly] we hold that an individual held for interrogation must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation under the system for protecting the privilege we delineate today."

4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you free of charge if you wish.
The U.S. Supreme Court: "In order fully to apprise a person interrogated of the extent of his rights under this system then, it is necessary to warn him not only that he has the right to consult with an attorney, but also that if he is indigent a lawyer will be appointed to represent him. Without this additional warning, the admonition of the right to consult with counsel would often be understood as meaning only that he can consult with a lawyer if he has one or has the funds to obtain one.

5. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney
The U.S. Supreme Court: "If the individual states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present. At that time, the individual must have an opportunity to confer with the attorney and to have him present during any subsequent questioning. If the individual cannot obtain an attorney and he indicates that he wants one before speaking to police, they must respect his decision to remain silent."

The Miranda Rights, however, do not preclude a suspect from being arrested. All the police requires to legally arrest a suspect is probable cause (please kindly refer to the N.B. below), which refers to an adequate reason based on facts and events to believe that the person has in fact committed a crime. The police are however required to read to the suspect his Miranda Rights before any interrogation. Any failure to do so may ultimately cause any subsequent statements to be disregarded in court although the arrest may still be legal and valid. In addition, the police are also allowed to ask the suspect routine questions like name, address, date of birth, and social security number without reading him his Miranda Rights in an effort to establish the suspect's identity. The police can also administer alcohol and drug tests without any prior warning, although the suspect who is being tested may refuse to answer questions during the tests.

Ernesto Miranda was subsequently given a second trial at which his confession was not presented. Despite that, Miranda was again convicted of kidnapping and rape based on the evidence. He was then paroled from prison in 1972 after having served a total of 11 years. In 1976, Miranda, who was then aged 34, was stabbed to death in a fight. The police arrested a suspect who, after ironically choosing to exercise his Miranda Rights of silence, was subsequently released.

N.B. Please kindly refer to my following post "Point of Law - Probable Cause" on a more in-depth discussion on the concept of probable cause.

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