Robbins: How Miranda v Arizona changed American law |

Robbins: How Miranda v Arizona changed American law

March 23, 1963, Ernesto Miranda, a 23-year old Mexican immigrant living in Phoenix was arrested in his home on and brought to police headquarters for questioning.

Several days before Miranda’s arrest, a young woman had been abducted and raped. During her report of the incident, she provided a description that fit Miranda. Later, the victim identified Miranda in a lineup.

After being questioned on the charges of kidnapping and rape for several hours, the officers informed Miranda that he had been positively identified by the victim. Miranda then confessed to the crimes. He also signed his confession, which indicated his statement was made “knowingly and voluntarily.”

Rather than buttoning up the crime, however, that was not the end of it. In fact, it was just the beginning of what would turn out to be a blockbuster of American law.

You see, when Miranda “fessed up,” he was unaware that he had the right to keep his lips zipped. Neither did he know that he had the right to speak with an attorney before engaging with the police.

These little legal tidbits would be what the case would turn on later. But for now, Miranda’s goose appeared to be thoroughly cooked. His signed confession was used as the primary piece of evidence against him at his trial and ultimately led to his conviction. Miranda was sentenced to 20 to 30 years “hard time” in prison.

Off to the Big House, he went.  


Constitutional rights

During the initial trial, an objection had been made to Miranda’s confession being introduced as evidence. Because Miranda was ignorant of his rights against self-incrimination, the confession, counsel argued, should have been deemed involuntary.  

The case was appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

There, the lower court’s ruling was upheld.

But law is sometimes like a batter in the batter’s box. Neither one strike nor two is all you get. Miranda prepared for his third hack.

Miranda’s case was appealed again and landed before the United States Supreme Court in early 1966. There, the Court ruled, in a 5 to 4 decision, that Miranda had been denied his constitutional rights. 

The court determined that due to the intimidating circumstances of a police interrogation, suspects in general — and Miranda in particular — need to explicitly waive their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and their Sixth Amendment right to an attorney.  The Court also acknowledged that should a suspect invoke these rights, the interrogators must back off and kibosh must be put on further questioning until the attorney arrives. 

Things were looking up for Miranda.

Miranda was granted a new trial and the case was returned to the Arizona court for a “re-do” in 1967.  At the second trial, Miranda’s confession was omitted from evidence. But, oops, he was still found guilty of the same crimes.

For Miranda personally, things didn’t end up working out so well.  But the legacy of the Miranda case was huge.

The outfall of Miranda v. Arizona is what has become known in the vernacular as the Miranda rights or Miranda warning, which makes it mandatory for every suspect to be read his or her rights prior to any detainment and interrogation. If these rights are not clearly articulated, any statement made during the interrogation will be inadmissible in court.

So ingrained in law and law enforcement have the Miranda rights become that “Mirandizing” someone has been turned into a verb. One is Mirandized when the following is read to him or her before he or she may be questioned.

“You 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 provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?  With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

If the suspect says they do not wish to say anything, then no interrogation may take place.

Miranda was paroled in 1972. After his release, he became a bit of a minor celebrity. To make ends meet, he started selling autographed Miranda warning cards.  

Poor Miranda, however, could not mend his errant ways. Over the next several years, he was arrested numerous times for minor driving offenses and eventually lost his license. He was arrested for the possession of a gun but the charges were dropped. However, because possession of the gun violated his parole, he was sent back to prison for another year.

On Jan. 31, 1976, after his release, a violent fight broke out in a bar in Phoenix. Miranda suffered a lethal knife wound and was pronounced dead on arrival at Good Samaritan Hospital. Several Miranda cards were found on his person. 

Despite himself, in his short life, Miranda contributed mightily to the legacy of American law and his case still stands as a giant in the annals of Western jurisprudence.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address,

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