January 31, 2021

Miranda (Warning and Rights)

January 31 is the anniversary of the death of Ernesto Mirando in 1976. As this is little cause for celebration, you can feel free to invoke your right to withhold condolences.

adj. of, relating to, or being the legal rights of an arrested person to have an attorney and to remain silent so as to avoid self-incrimination
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition

Despite the Constitutional warm fuzzies invoked in the United States by the Amendment-imbued words “You have the right to remain silent…,” the namesake of the pop culturally clich├ęd “Miranda Warning” was an extraordinarily sad scumbag.

Ernesto Arturo Miranda was born in 1941 in Mesa, Arizona, and was a convicted criminal before finishing the eighth grade. By his eighteenth birthday, he had additionally been convicted of burglary, arrested on suspicion of armed robbery and assorted sex offenses, spent several years in reform school, and deported back to Arizona from California. A brief and dishonorably discharged stint in the Army was followed by arrests and jail time for vagrancy in Texas and driving a stolen car in Tennessee before Miranda finally settled down in Arizona in the early 1960s.

In March of 1963, Miranda was arrested in Phoenix and confessed (after interrogation) to the rape of an eighteen-year-old girl, and his voice was positively identified by the victim. He dutifully wrote down his confessions on police stationery with printed certification on the top of each page that all statements were made “with full knowledge of my legal rights.” During his trial, Miranda’s court-appointed lawyer raised the objection that his client had not been informed of his Constitutional rights to remain silent (and avoid self-incrimination) or to have an attorney present during his confession. The judge overruled the objections and sentenced Miranda to twenty to thirty years each for charges of rape and kidnapping.

Miranda appealed the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court only to have it uphold the original ruling. In 1966, the United States Supreme Court ultimately overturned his conviction with Chief Justice Earl Warren insisting that the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause and the Sixth Amendment’s right to an attorney meant that a confession could be used as admissible evidence only if a suspect had been made aware of his rights and then waived them. Following Miranda v. Arizona, police across the United States were required to issue a “Miranda Warning” to all criminal suspects in custody, making them aware of their Constitutional rights—somewhat erroneously now identified as Miranda rights. Despite the rote treatment it gets on television cop shows, there is remarkably no single wording that has to be used for the warning as long as the gist is conveyed.

Miranda still went back to jail. His case was retried using evidence besides his confession, he was convicted again, and he served eleven more years. He was turned down for parole four times before finally being released. He made the most of his ongoing notoriety by selling autographed Miranda Warning cards, getting arrested for moving violations and gun possession, working as a delivery driver, and gambling. Miranda was killed in a knife fight at a Phoenix bar in 1976 at the age of thirty-four.

The prime suspect in Miranda’s killing had the Miranda warning read to him from a small card, invoked his right to remain silent, and allegedly escaped to Mexico to avoid prosecution.