Miranda rights Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A requirement that the police inform suspects of their right against self-incrimination and their right to counsel during custodial interrogation.

The Miranda rights were created by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Miranda v. Arizona[case]Miranda v. Arizona[Miranda v. Arizona] (1966). Miranda, a suspect in a kidnaping and rape case, confessed after being interrogated for two hours. The confession was admitted in trial, and Miranda was convicted. The Court overturned his conviction, ruling that the confession was inadmissible because the police failed to inform Miranda of his constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination and to obtain counsel before questioning him during a custodial investigation. The Court established guidelines, known as the Miranda rights, for informing suspects of their Fifth Amendment rights.Self-incrimination, immunity againstSelf-incrimination, immunity against

The Miranda ruling has been continually reexamined since its inclusion in the U.S. justice system. It left a number of unanswered questions, including how to determine whether the accused was in fact in custody (and therefore needed to be read his or her rights), whether the suspect’s statements were spontaneous or the product of an investigation (and needed to be preceded by the reading of rights), and whether the individual effectively waived his or her rights. Subsequent cases helped answer these questions and define when the practice of reading suspects their rights can be suspended, which is usually if the questioning is being conducted in certain contexts and if larger issues notably public safety are concerned.

A Question of Time and Place

In Orozco v. Texas[case]Orozco v. Texas[Orozco v. Texas] (1969), the Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that four police officers should have read the Miranda rights to a suspect before questioning began in the suspect’s bedroom at four o’clock in the morning. However, in Beckwith v. United States[case]Beckwith v. United States[Beckwith v. United States] (1976), the Court held that statements received by Internal Revenue Service agents during a noncoercive and noncustodial interview of a taxpayer under a criminal tax investigation conducted in a private residence did not require a reading of the Miranda rights, provided that the taxpayer was informed that he was free to leave the interview at any time.

In its 1966 ruling, the Court stated that the reading of the rights is necessary only if the suspect is in custody or deprived of freedom in a significant way. In the case of Oregon v. Mathiason[case]Oregon v. Mathiason[Oregon v. Mathiason] (1977), the suspect entered the police station after an officer told him that he would “like to discuss something with him.” It was made clear to the suspect that he was not under arrest. During his visit to the police station, the suspect confessed, and his confession was ruled admissible, despite the suspect not having been read his Miranda rights. The Court, in North Carolina v. Butler[case]North Carolina v. Butler[North Carolina v. Butler] (1979), stated that “the trial court must look at all the circumstances to determine if a valid waiver has been made. Although an express waiver is easier to establish, it is not a requirement.”

Still many questions remained unanswered, and further interpretations of Miranda followed. In Smith v. Illinois[case]Smith v. Illinois[Smith v. Illinois] (1984), the Court declared that suspects taken into custody could invoke their Miranda rights very early in the process, even during the interrogator’s reading of their rights, effectively ending their questioning before it starts. In Berkemer v. McCarty[case]Berkemer v. McCarty[Berkemer v. McCarty] (1984), the Court determined that the Miranda rights must be read any time “in-custody” interrogation regarding a felony, misdemeanor, or minor offense takes place. However, it stated that routine questioning during traffic stops did not place enough pressure on detained people to necessitate officers’ warning them of their constitutional rights.

Some Exceptions

In New York v. Quarles[case]New York v. Quarles[New York v. Quarles] (1984), the Court ruled six to three that there is a “public safety” exception to the requirement that Miranda rights be read. In Quarles, police officers arrested a man they believed had just committed a rape. They asked the man where he had discarded a gun. The arrest took place in a supermarket, and the suspect was thought to have concealed the gun somewhere inside the supermarket. The gun was found and used as evidence. In such circumstances, the Court declared, “The need for answers to questions in a situation posing a threat to the public safety outweighs the need for the prophylactic rule protecting the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination.” Quarles was a significant ruling, eroding Miranda’s influence.

Subsequent cases challenged the Court’s interpretation of Miranda. In Oregon v. Elstead[case]Oregon v. Elstead[Oregon v. Elstead] (1985), police officers received a voluntary admission of guilt from a suspect who had not yet been informed of his constitutional rights. The suspect made a second confession after he had been read his Miranda rights and had signed a waiver. Regarding the second confession, the Court ruled that “the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment does not require it to be suppressed solely because of the earlier voluntary but unwarned admission.” Furthermore, in Pennsylvania v. Muniz[case]Pennsylvania v. Muniz[Pennsylvania v. Muniz] (1990), the Court decided that the routine questioning and videotaping of drivers suspected of driving under the influence was permissible even if the Miranda rights had not been recited.

In addition, the Court held that reciting the Miranda rights is not required when the suspect gives a voluntary statement and is unaware that he or she is speaking to a law enforcement officer. In Illinois v. Perkins[case]Illinois v. Perkins[Illinois v. Perkins] (1990), an undercover government agent was placed in a cell with Perkins, who was incarcerated on charges unrelated to the subject of the agent’s investigation. Perkins made statements that implicated him in the crime that the agent sought to solve, but he later claimed that the statements should have been inadmissable because he was not read his Miranda rights. However, even though Perkins was unaware that his cell mate was a government agent, his statements which led to his arrest were deemed admissible.

Further Reading
  • Axtman, Kris. “The Tale Behind Cops’ Most Famous Words.” Christian Science Monitor, April 14, 2000.
  • Carmen, Rolando Videl. Criminal Procedure. 6th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2003.
  • Cassell, P. G., and R. Fowles. “Handcuffing the Cops? A Thirty-Year Perspective on Miranda’s Harmful Effects on Law Enforcement.” Stanford Law Review 50 (1998).
  • Freidell, Ron. Miranda Law: The Right to Remain Silent. New York: Benchmark Books, 2005.
  • Hall, Kermit L. The Rights of the Accused: The Justices and Criminal Justice. New York: Garland, 2000.
  • National Research Council. Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2003.
  • Savage, David G. “Speaking Up About Silence.” ABA Journal (November, 2003).
  • Weinreb, Lloyd L. Leading Constitutional Cases on Criminal Justice. Rev. ed. New York: Foundation Press, 2001
  • White, Welsh S. Miranda’s Waning Protections: Police Interrogation Practices After Dickerson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003.

Brown v. Mississippi

Counsel, right to

Escobedo v. Illinois

Miranda v. Arizona

Terry v. Ohio

Categories: History Content