On March 3, 1963, an eighteen-year-old woman had been working in the concession stand at a movie theatre in downtown Phoenix. After work, she boarded a public bus to go home. When the bus reached her stop, she started to walk toward her house. She observed a car, which afterwards proved to be that of Ernesto Miranda.
Mr. Miranda got out of his car, approached the woman, and forced her into the backseat of his car. The woman had never seen Mr. Miranda before.
Mr. Miranda drove the car for about twenty minutes out to a secluded area in the desert. Mr. Miranda stopped the car, and sexually assaulted the woman. Mr. Miranda then drove the woman back into the city. As he dropped her off he told her “pray for me.” The woman ran home, and told her family, who called the police.
The woman met with detectives, and told them that the car that her assailant drove was green or gray, and had dark upholstery with stripes. About a week later, a family member of the woman spotted a car in the neighborhood that matched the description, and got a partial license plate which he provided to police. From that partial plate, the detectives determined that Ernesto Miranda was a suspect.
On March 13, 1963, police officers arrested Mr. Miranda and took him to the police station. Officers placed Mr. Miranda in a line up, but the woman he had kidnapped and assaulted was not able to positively identify him as her attacker.
Detectives then questioned Miranda for two hours. The detectives did not inform Miranda that he had the right to have an attorney present.
Mr. Miranda eventually confessed to kidnapping and assaulting the woman, and his confession was used at his trial. The jury convicted him and the judge sentenced him to 20 to 30 years in prison.
In 1966 the United States Supreme Court reversed Mr. Miranda’s conviction.
The Supreme Court held that though the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution guaranteed that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” that when police officers take a person into custody and question them, that the unless the police give the person certain warnings, the officers are essentially compelling the person to be a witness against themself.
Therefore, the Supreme Court held that when an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by the authorities and is subjected to questioning, police must warn the person prior to any questioning of the following:
that he has the right to remain silent;
that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law;
that he has the right to the presence of an attorney;
if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.
Many people misunderstand the Supreme Court’s holding in the Miranda case. Miranda does not mean that police must read a person his rights after any arrest, nor does Miranda mean that police must read a person his rights before any questioning.
What Miranda means is that police only have to read a suspect his Miranda Rights if police conduct a custodial interrogation. A suspect is in custody for purposes of receiving Miranda protection when there is a formal arrest, or a restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest. Interrogation under Miranda refers not only to express questioning, but also to any words or actions on the part of the police that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.
In a custodial interrogation, custody and interrogation take place at the same time.
Sometimes police conduct an interrogation but the suspect is not in custody. For example, detectives will frequently leave their business cards at the homes of persons involved in an investigation. If the person that received the business card calls the detective and agrees to come to the police station to answer some questions and the detective does not detain or arrest the person during the questioning, there is interrogation but no custody – so the detective is not obligated to read the Miranda Rights.
Sometimes the suspect is in custody but the police don’t conduct an interrogation. For example, police officers frequently arrest two subjects at the same time and place them in the back of a patrol car. Unbeknownst to the two subjects, police will leave a recording device on in the vehicle so they can record what the subjects are talking about. Often, one or both of the suspects will make incriminating statements. The two subjects are in custody but because no police officer is asking them questions there is no interrogation – so the police officer is not obligated to read the Miranda Rights.
As far as Mr. Miranda himself – he did not get away with his crime. After the United States Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1966, his case was returned to the Arizona trial court. At his second trial, the prosecutor could not use Mr. Miranda’s confession against him. However, Mr. Miranda’s ex-common law wife testified at the second trial that shortly after Mr. Miranda had been arrested for the kidnapping, she had gone to visit him in jail, and that during that visit Mr. Miranda admitted to kidnapping and assaulting the eighteen-year-old woman. The jury convicted Miranda, and the judge sentenced him to prison.
Mr. Miranda was paroled in 1973, but his newfound fame made it difficult to get a job. To make money, he carried autographed Miranda Cards and sold them around Phoenix.
Before too long, he was picked up on a parole violation, and sent back to prison. In 1976, he was released but shortly thereafter got into a fight over $2.00 in change during a poker game at a bar. During the fight, Mr. Miranda was stabbed to death. Police detained and questioned a suspect that allegedly had handed the murder weapon (a knife) to the Miranda’s killer, but the suspect, after receiving his Miranda warnings, declined to make a statement. The killer fled and was never found.
If police seek to interview you concerning a crime, it’s best to speak with an experienced criminal trial attorney before speaking with them. Though you may be completely innocent, misunderstandings can occur. An attorney can guide you through the process, and safeguard your rights.
If you or a loved one is under investigation in the Tampa Bay area for a Federal or State offense, call Board Certfied Criminal Defense Attorney David C. Hardy. For more information on Attorney Hardy’s experience, click here.