In 1963, the police took Ernesto Miranda in for questioning concerning a kidnapping and rape case. Miranda was identified as the perpetrator in a police line-up. Once in interrogation, Miranda admitted to the rape and kidnapping, and then signed a written confession. However, no one ever told Miranda that he had the right to remain silent or the right to counsel. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution states that “no person shall… be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Despite the defense’s objections, the confession was used as evidence in the trial, and the jury found Miranda guilty. The defense appealed the case, and the Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed the judgment and stated that Miranda’s rights were not violated since he did not request counsel. When the case reached the Supreme Court, Miranda’s case was combined with three other Fifth Amendment cases with similar facts. The Supreme Court had to determine if the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination, applies to the interrogation process. 


In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that the confessions were unconstitutional and could not be admitted, reversing the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision. The decision was written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was known to be tough on crime. Warren noted that a person should have the “privilege… not to be compelled to incriminate himself.” Warren wrote that the police should have informed Miranda of his right to remain silent and his right to counsel in order to comply with the Fifth Amendment. Also, Miranda should have been told that “anything he said can be used against him in a court of law… and if you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you before any questioning if wanted.” The authorities must prove that they notified the suspect of these rights. 

Warren noted that if an informed suspect decides to talk with the authorities, they are waiving their rights “voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently.” In addition, the process must end at any stage if a suspect “indicates” they do not want to be interrogated or want an attorney. Investigators and prosecutors must use all of these tactics to safeguard the Fifth Amendment. 


Justice Tom Clark wrote a dissent and argued that the Court’s decision restricted the police from being able to do their job properly. However, Clark noted that the state must prove they notified the suspect of their rights, but if they do not do so, that should not result in the automatic exclusion of evidence and confessions. Justice John Harlan also wrote a dissent joined by Justice Potter Stewart and Justice Byron White. In it, he argued that the Court’s decision deviated from precedent since no prior case demanded that the authorities notify a suspect of their rights. Justice White also wrote a dissent of his own, which was joined by Harlan and Stewart. Justice White stated that the burden should be on the suspect to remain silent and ask for counsel. White noted the majority harms the validity of confessions and therefore harms the judicial process. 


The Miranda decision created a code of conduct for police. While the ruling raised concerns about the rights of victims and the strength of law enforcement, the Miranda decision and recitation of “Miranda Rights” have become customary, not controversial, in the United States. Many Americans can recite their “Miranda Rights” today because of its use in popular culture. 

In Dickerson v. United States (2000), the Supreme Court, who was more conservative at the time, decided to uphold the Miranda decision, 7-2. Chief Justice William Rehnquist stated in his opinion that “Congress could not replace the Miranda warning with a general rule.” Ten years later, in Berghuis v. Thompkins, a 5-4 Court decided that a suspect must explicitly invoke their right to remain silent. In 2014, a plurality in Salinas v. Texas agreed to extend the decision in Berghuis, noting that a suspect must state their use of their rights and not merely remain silent.

Think Further

  1. Can a confession ever be admissible if a defendant is not notified of their Fifth Amendment rights? What about when questioning a lawyer? 
  2. Should a suspect have to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights explicitly? 
  3. Did the decision in Miranda v. Arizona make it harder for investigators or prosecutors to do their jobs like Justice Clark claimed?


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Learn More

  1. Gillman, Howard. American Constitutionalism, Second Edition. Volume II Rights and Liberties. [Virtual Source Bookshelf]. 
  2. “Miranda v. Arizona.” Oyez,
  3. “Miranda v. Arizona.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. (21 May 2020).