Sunday, June 11, 2006


On June 13, 1966, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the decision of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S 436 (1966). A week later, the Supreme Court decided in Johnson v. New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719 (1966), ruled that the Miranda case was not to be applied to cases in which the trial had already occurred.

Forty years ago today, the Supreme Court changed the rules relating to interrogation of persons accused of felony. The applicable rule, from the birth of the nation, had been that an admission or confession which was voluntary (no promises; no threats or coercion)was admissible in the criminal trial. Now the rule became much more restrictive. Interrogation of an accused in custody would be lawful (the evidence admissible) only if the accused (no matter his education nor knowledge of law)is given certain advice: the Miranda warning. You have the right to remain silent; anything you say may be used against you; you have the right to a lawyer to advise you and to be present with you during questioning; if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you; if you give up your right to a lawyer and agree to answer questions, you have the right to stop answering the questions at any time. Words to that effect (thousands of cases wrestled with the issue of whether the right words were used by the police).

If the accused "knowingly and intelligently" gave up, or waived, his right to an attorney, and confessed, we may use the confession to convict and impose the death penalty. This test, this rule, is worthy of ridicule. The rule is ridiculous. With all due respect for the Court. Before the Miranda case, only the ignorant, the fearful, the remorseful, the mentally impaired confessed. After the Miranda case, it is only the very remorseful, fearful, ignorant, etc. who confess. We have a rule that penalizes the weak and favors the hardened and strong criminal.

Even if the Miranda case had been decided correctly (it overruled a number of its own cases), it was ill-advised to make it applicable to cases that were awaiting trial. Many cases had been properly investigated under the old rule, with no misconduct by the police, and confessions obtained. Those confessions were now inadmissible, and there was no way to go back and do the interrogation over, with the Miranda warnings. These accused persons had lawyers now, and lawyers do not allow guilty clients to talk to the police.

In the Albuquerque office, the District Attorney had three murder cases pending trial in which the police had a confession, and the cases were too weak to prosecute without the confession. The result was that those three cases were dismissed. Justice was denied because the Supreme Court changed the rule and made it apply to cases where the confession had already been obtained. In June, 1966, there were approximately 285,000 people in Bernalillo County. One miscarriage of justice in case of murder, for every 100 thousand population. The population of the United States was approximately 180 million. That makes 1,800 miscarried murder cases. How can such a result be justified? How can such a rule be justified?