Fairleigh Dickinson University Professor Talks 50-Year Anniversary of Miranda Rights

The balance between protecting basic rights of one person versus protecting the security of all people is being debated just as we mark the Supreme Court landmark 50 years ago that set a new standard for law enforcement officials in their dealings with suspects. An unlikely alliance coalesced around getting Miranda rights codified into law. Fairleigh Dickinson University Political Science Professor Bruce Peabody has researched it extensively. He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Williams: Thanks for being with us. We can all recite these by heart: “You have the right to remain silent…” But actually there are four rights.

Peabody: There are indeed. So, Miranda v. Arizona establishes that you have a right to remain silent, that anything you say can be used against you. The warnings also let people know they have a right to an attorney and that if they cannot afford one they can have the opportunity to have one provided by the state. Many jurisdictions will add a fifth warning that simply says that you can terminate any conversation with police at any time but that’s not required.

Williams: What was in existence before the Miranda verdict?

Peabody: The rule that eventually came into being was essentially that police could interrogate suspects as long as they didn’t use coercion. That is as long as they didn’t use force that the statements provided by suspects were voluntary. That was the rule that resided from let’s say the early 1930s until 1966.

Williams: There were a couple of cases at the time of Ernesto Miranda that were similar. Why did Ernesto Miranda’s rise to the top?

Peabody: Interestingly enough the Miranda case that we think of surely is about Ernesto Miranda, but it was actually four other cases that were consolidated into the case that we now know as Miranda v. Arizona. So, I think the reason that Miranda was the landmark case was to some degree the timing. These issues had been bubbling through the courts for a number of years and the court was ready in the 1966. This was a mature war in court. It was ready to make its mark with Miranda. It was dissatisfied by the ambiguity that the earlier standards had provided.

Williams: What had surprised me in my research was that the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover was fundamentally issuing Miranda rights to the people that it was interrogating already. So, it was the FBI and the ACLU working together in an unlikely alliance.

Peabody: Yeah I mean the federal government had already been using the Miranda rules in its interrogation and I think they had a sense that they weren’t disruptive to law enforcement efforts. This is — the rules could be workable for interrogating suspects and getting confessions.

Williams: Why did J. Edgar Hoover do that? To protect the FBI?

Peabody: I think to protect the FBI, I think to some degree they saw the way that the court was heading and again there was evidence on the ground that this was effective — that they could use these warnings and get these rights out front and center and still get the law enforcement information that it needed.

Williams: Correct me if I am wrong — under the 14th Amendment, unlawful search and seizure, if you have evidence that was taken without a warrant it cannot be used, right?

Peabody: Correct.

Williams: But that’s not the case with Miranda, right?

Peabody: The exclusionary rule which you may be speaking about each — the exclusionary rule originally comes from a set of cases including, Weeks Case from 1914 and the famous Matt v. Ohio case from 1961. Miranda has its own special exclusionary rules. Part of the Miranda ruling was that if you get a suspect to make an incriminating statement without the warnings, that information is excluded from the courts.¬† So interestingly enough, in the case of Ernesto Miranda, his confession was set aside but on the basis on other evidence that he was ultimately convicted.

Williams: In the year 2000 a case went before the Supreme Court to overturn Miranda. It wasn’t successful but at the time the late Justice Anton Scalia called it a milestone of judicial overreach.

Peabody: Right. So right after Miranda v. Arizona in 1966 — we’re acknowledging its 50th anniversary — the United States Congress passed a law which said that for the purposes of federal investigation, the Miranda warnings are essentially voluntary, they’re an advisory. The federal government only needs to establish that a confession was voluntary if it doesn’t meet the bright light requirements of Miranda and the statement is voluntary it is still acceptable. So it’s sort of portray Miranda as a set of guidelines but not as constitutional law. That congressional statue sat fallow for many decades until 2000 as you point out when somebody challenged the status of Miranda v. Arizona using this law as the basis and the court said no, Miranda is constitutional law, it must be upheld. The statue, you can’t set it aside. Interestingly enough — of course Scalia disagreed, but the court was seven to two on this decision including conservatives such as Chief Justice at the time William Rehnquist who originally opposed Miranda but now said it was the law of the land.

Williams: How has Miranda shaped American jurisprudence over 50 years?

Peabody: Miranda was — at the time it was issued — quite controversial. Not just with respect to the presidents, including Richard Nixon who famously opposed the decision, some lower judges, lower court judges said that they were not so sure about the effects of the decision and how it would be implemented. Over time, other presidents, Nixon for sure but other presidents including Reagan have appointed other Supreme Court justices and lower court judges who have modified the ruling. I would say we’ve had about 30 important Supreme Court cases since the 1960s interpenetrating Miranda. About 22 of those have restricted the reach of Miranda in one way or another.

Williams: Overall good? Overall mixed?

Peabody: Overall pragmatic I would say. So, piece by piece I can’t say that it’s a clear landscape the court has created for us but it certainly has been a pragmatic one. Just to give you one example, in 1984 there is a public safety exception to Miranda. That is that if there is an immediate threat, danger to the public then the normal Miranda warnings are not required. The case involved a man who had — a suspect who had discarded a gun in a supermarket where children and of course members of the public were at hand and the police officer had said where is the gun to the suspect without providing Miranda. That rule coming out of that case was used in the Boston Marathon bombing.

Williams: OK, Bruce Peabody thank you for being here.

Peabody: Thank you.