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50 years of 'Read him his rights': Miranda decision revolutionzed criminal law

Miranda v. ArizonaYou 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.

Familiar as these phrases are to any viewer of an American police procedural show, they are crucial components of real-life criminal law.

Fifty years ago this week, June 13, 1966, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Miranda v. Arizona and changed the course of American criminal justice.

Widely referred to as one’s “Miranda Rights,” police today are required to inform those arrested of their rights. If the police fail to do so, anything the defendant says cannot be used in court.

The defendant in Miranda vs. Arizona, Ernesto Miranda was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and rape. After a long interrogation, Miranda signed a written confession, which was admitted in court, sending Miranda to prison. His attorney later argued that because Miranda was not aware he had a right to an attorney during questioning, his constitutional rights were violated.

The court ruled 5 to 4, affirming Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, bringing a new set of rules to America’s police departments, and creating public defendant offices across the country.

“In the beginning, police all over the country were really upset and thought that it was going to be a major hindrance to their ability to secure confessions and convictions,” Creighton University law professor Michael Fenner said.

Before, it was common for police to not inform those arrested of any rights.

“Some of that may sound strange to people who just grew up with the Miranda warnings. It just seems like it was always there, but they weren’t,” Fenner said. “Fifty years ago, people were largely unaware of the rights. Police kind of took advantage of it.”

Sometimes a suspect was held for hours and hours, finally confessing to crimes they didn’t commit, just because they wanted to leave.

“In the beginning, right after the opinion was handed down, police were really looking for ways to get around it, ways to not fully comply,” Fenner said.

Today, Miranda warnings are routine for police, leaving behind the initial controversy 50 years ago. Though there are no set phrases police must recite, the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney must be stated.

“Police don’t really object to these warnings. Many of them would say it’s a good thing,” Fenner said.

After the case, Ernesto Miranda capitalized on his newfound fame, by selling signed copies of “Miranda cards,” carried by police officers to read to those they arrested. In 1976, Miranda was killed after being stabbed in a bar fight.

The suspect in Miranda’s death was arrested for murder and read his “Miranda Rights.” Using his right to remain silent, and without sufficient evidence, the suspect was never convicted.

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