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Miranda - Protecting the Innocent

The following was written by Utah Criminal Lawyer Stephen Howard and first  published by the Deseret News on May 1, 2016 in a slightly edited form.

Posted here May 3, 2016
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Celebrating 50 Years Since Miranda v. Arizona

We have all heard them in television or movies — typically as the recently captured criminal is being led away by police. "You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you.…" In the 50 years since the United States Supreme Court decided the historic case of Miranda v. Arizona, the words of the Miranda warnings have become so common in our entertainment culture that it can be easy to forget their real purpose and the very important role that they play in protecting both the innocent and the guilty.

Nothing to Hide - Protecting the Innocent

It is well-documented that innocent people do sometimes falsely confess to crimes that they did not in fact commit. Instances of confirmed false confessions may be rare, and the circumstances leading to false confessions can be complex. Perhaps more common are cases involving true statements that may not rise to the level of a confession, but still provide support for a criminal charge. It is again well-documented that innocent people have been charged and jailed on charges as serious as murder, based in part on truthful statements that they made to police.

It is sometimes suggested that an innocent person has "nothing to hide" and should therefore be willing to talk openly with police. But the drafters of the Constitution recognized the risks involved in giving government the power to compel confessions.

A decade before the Miranda decision was announced, the Supreme Court in Ullmann v. United States discussed the importance of the Fifth Amendment’s protections. The court noted that those who drafted our Constitution "had in mind a lot of history which has been largely forgotten today." The court observed that the drafters of our Constitution "made a judgment and expressed it in our fundamental law, that it were better for an occasional crime to go unpunished than that the prosecution should be free to build up a criminal case, in whole or in part, with the assistance of enforced disclosures by the accused."

In addressing the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination, the Supreme Court stated, "Too many, even those who should be better advised, view this privilege as a shelter for wrongdoers. They too readily assume that those who invoke it are either guilty of crime or commit perjury in claiming the privilege. Such a view does scant honor to the patriots who sponsored the Bill of Rights. …"

Continuing Necessity of Miranda Requirements

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Miranda, police have been required to specifically inform individuals of their constitutional rights before conducting a custodial interrogation. A police officer’s violation of Miranda can result in the exclusion at trial of any statements made by a defendant.

There is debate among some as to whether police should be required to strictly comply with Miranda procedures. There is debate as to whether the Miranda warnings are effective in avoiding coerced confessions. There is debate over whether the exclusionary rule is effective in deterring abusive police practices and whether the rule creates an unnecessary impediment to legitimate prosecutions.

Some note that even when the Miranda warnings are given, the vast majority of defendants still make voluntary statements to police. Some suggest that video recording technology can provide adequate safeguards, even in the absence of Miranda warnings, against coerced confessions and abusive interrogation practices.

Miranda Rights or Miranda Warnings

While there are many issues relating to Miranda that can be debated, one point is clear — the rights referenced in the Miranda warnings come directly from the United States Constitution. These rights were not created by the Supreme Court’s Miranda decision. And they exist independent of any police officer’s decision to “read you your rights.”

Make Good Use of Your Constitutional Rights

As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Miranda decision, if you find yourself confronted by a police officer who asks you to answer questions or make a statement, remember that the United States Constitution guarantees you the right to remain silent, and the right to first seek the assistance and advice of a qualified attorney. Do honor to those who created our Constitution and to those who defend it — make good use of your constitutional rights.

Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Utah

Utah Criminal Lawyer in Salt Lake CityIf you have been contacted by a police officer or other government investigator or if you have been charged with a crime, the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be key to ensuring that your rights are protected. Contact us today to see what the right attorney can do for you.


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Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

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