Miranda v. Arizona


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The words echo throughout our society-whether you're an attorney, a criminal, or simply someone who enjoys tv police dramas. You have the right to remain silent. That influential phrase became cemented in the American consciousness thanks to a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision. But the case that led to that decision-Miranda v. Arizona-had its humble beginnings in Phoenix, when two legendary attorneys took on accused rapist Ernesto Miranda as a client.


Narrator: 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 speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense. The so-called Miranda rights have been a part of American life for more than four decades, known to attorneys, criminals, and fans of TV detective shows. But they started in an unexpected, modest way when a Mesa produce worker named Ernesto Miranda became the prime
suspect in a series of crimes in 1963.

Peter Baird: He came back to Phoenix after being in jail in various places around the country for fairly minor crimes. And he for some reason started preying on young women. He kept picking them up at the corner of Missouri and 7th Street.

Narrator: Three women had been victimized in similar ways. A man described as a 25-year-old Hispanic or Italian had forced them into his car and either raped or attempted to rape them. One of those cases was assigned to Carroll Cooley, who had become a Phoenix police detective one year earlier. He connected the dots with the help of a license plate number that eventually led him and his partner to the Mesa home of Ernie Miranda.

Carrol Cooley: So we came into the living room and we said, "Would you mind going downtown with us?" We took him to the department. We sat him down in the interview room. We called them interrogation rooms back in those days.

Narrator: For about 30 minutes, Cooley interviewed Miranda and told him that police knew that he'd abducted and raped a young woman, but Miranda repeatedly denied the accusations. So Cooley asked him to join a lineup. Miranda agreed. Two of the alleged victims picked Miranda out but said they weren't absolutely certain. A disappointed Cooley brought Miranda back to the interrogation room.

Carroll Cooley: And his question to me was, "How did I do?" And my answer was, "Well, you didn't do so good, Ernie." He says, "They identified me, then." I says, "Yes, they did." So he said, "Well, I guess I ought to tell you about it." And I said, "Yeah, I think you should, Ernie."

Carroll Cooley (reading part of Miranda’s confession): "I do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will, with no threats, coercion, or promises of immunity, and with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me."

Narrator: His confession helped send Ernesto Miranda to prison. He was sentenced to serve 20 years, but the case caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which believed the poor and uneducated weren't being told about their constitutional rights.

Peter Baird: At that point, Lewis & Roca was asked to get involved, particularly John Flynn, a legendary criminal defense lawyer, and John Frank, a legendary constitutional lawyer.

Narrator: Frank and Flynn petitioned the Supreme Court, which accepted the case and heard Miranda v. Arizona in February of 1966.

Flynn audio: I believe that the record indicates that at no time during the interrogation was he advised either of his rights to remain silent or of his right to counsel or of his right to consult with counsel.

Narrator: John Flynn argued on Miranda's behalf before the Supreme Court. Gary Nelson, an Assistant Attorney general in Arizona, argued the state's case.

Gary Nelson: I was trying to convince the court at the time. I thought that our case pretty much complied with it, that what we did in Arizona at that time pretty much complied with all the things they wanted done. If the extreme position is adopted that says he has to either have counsel at this stage or intelligently waive counsel, that a serious problem in the enforcement of our criminal law will occur. And when counsel is introduced at interrogation, interrogation ceases.

Narrator: On June 13, 1966, a 5-4 majority of the court Reversed Miranda's rape conviction, making his name synonymous with suspects' rights. But the high court's decision wasn't retroactive and didn't free Miranda. He remained in the Florence prison, becoming a celebrity to his fellow inmates.

Peter Baird: He became famous, and the inmates down there believed that he was a hero. And the theory that they had down there is “Miranda doesn't confess,” which is just utterly wrong. He did confess. But he became a hero so much so that when I went down to interview him to work on getting this other conviction reversed, I started asking him questions, and he refused to answer, because he said, "You know, I'm known as Miranda who doesn't confess." Well, of course he confessed.

Narrator: Miranda cashed in on his famous name after he left prison in March of 1975. He autographed Miranda warning cards and added the date of the Supreme Court decision, and he sold them for a few dollars apiece. Neither his celebrity nor his constitutional rights could protect him, though, after a poker game on January 31, 1976, went awry.

Peter Baird: He was in a card game in the section of Phoenix that used to be called "The Deuce," which is now where the Civic Center is, in one of those -- the La Amapola bar, actually, and got into a disagreement over who was cheating at cards.

Narrator: Miranda got the better of a fistfight, but two adversaries slit his throat with a lettuce knife and left him on the floor of the bar.

Peter Baird: One was -- disappeared into Mexico. The other was arrested and presumably read his rights.

Narrator: Ernesto Miranda's legacy is attached to the rights that have survived numerous challenges over the decades. But it's his attorneys who deserve the credit.

Peter Baird: The two of them were the perfect storm for this case, because John was able to put a brief together that was dazzling, and then John Flynn, who wasn't much with a pen or a typewriter, but, boy, when he opened his mouth, people listened.

Narrator: Or to some, the blame.

Carroll Cooley: The real loser in this decision, in my opinion, is John Q. Citizen and the victims of crimes and those victims' families. In my day, a lot of crimes were solved by confessions, a lot. And a lot of convictions were obtained through those confessions.

Narrator: But attorneys on both sides of the 1966 argument have come to agree on the decision's importance and its lasting power.

Gary Nelson: I think we ought to be proud of it.

John Frank (audio): People should not be compelled to give confessions without knowing what their rights are. A lot of people don't know they have constitutional rights, and after Miranda, now they all do.