Before the Miranda v. Arizona decision, police officers often detained and interrogated persons accused of crimes until the officers were able to elicit a confession. In many instances, during the detention, these persons were not aware of their right to counsel and their right to avoid self-incrimination.
In the 1960s, The Supreme Court handed down several decisions involving the rights of an accused. In Gideon v. Waiwright, the Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required the state to provide legal counsel to criminal defendants in felony cases who could not afford their own counsel. In Escobedo v. Illinois, the Court ruled that persons being questioned by policy had the right to counsel. However, Miranda v. Arizona may be the best known of them all, sparking the now-famous Miranda warning heard on police dramas from the small screen to the silver screen.
When the police arrested Ernesto Miranda at his home in Arizona, they brought him to the local police station where they cut him off from the outside world and legal counsel, and questioned for two hours before he confessed to crimes of rape and kidnapping. At trial, the court admitted Miranda's oral admissions into evidence and he was convicted. However, the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction because a "full and effective warning of his rights at the outset of the interrogation process" is warranted. In this case, Miranda was not informed and was not aware of his rights.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that police are required to clearly inform arrested persons that the government could use any information obtained from them as evidence against them, that they have a right to remain silent, and they have a right to legal counsel. Today, those rights are referred to as "Miranda Rights."
At the time, this decision distressed law enforcement and outraged then-President Richard M. Nixon and other politicians because it seemed to elevate "criminal" rights above societal rights and handcuff law enforcement. The counter-argument is that the Miranda decision actually strengthens law enforcement efforts. While the Miranda warnings may make confessions more difficult to obtain, they also make any confessions obtained more reliable because such confessions are voluntary, instead of being products of of physical and mental exhaustion in the face of intense and unrelenting questioning.
Miranda also raises these important question. Are our constitutional rights completely illusory if we do not know they exist? Also, to what extent should the government bear the responsibility for informing us of our rights?
The Full Supreme Court Opinion