Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Miranda v. Arizona

Miranda v. Arizona 384 US 436 1966 is a landmark case in United States Supreme Court history, dealing with the rights citizens of the United States retain when arrested.


Miranda is one of many cases during the Warren Court era which deals with ensuring the fairness of the application of the laws of the United States to everyone, regardless of social status. It is typical of Warren's tenure on the Court, a period of judicial activism and expansion and specification of citizens' rights.

The Case

In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested for robbery, kidnapping, and rape. He was interrogated by police and confessed. At trial, prosecutors offered only his confession as evidence and he was convicted.

The Decision

The Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Miranda was intimidated by the interrogation and did not understand that he had the right not to incriminate himself and the right to have counsel, and they overturned his conviction. Miranda was retried, and this time the police did not use the confession but called witnesses and used other evidence. Miranda was convicted, and served 11 years.

The Supreme Court did not specify the exact wording to be used when reading a suspect's rights. However, they did set down a set of guidelines which must be followed. The ruling stated:

"...The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him." Some scholars have criticized this warning, arguing it misleads suspects into believing that any statement they give to police will be presented to the jury in its entirety. In fact, prosecutors can, within reason, present only the parts of the statement which place the suspect in the worst light while excluding the rest of the statement.

This principle of law, though under different names, has been adopted in jurisdictions throughout the English speaking world. In fact, due to the prevalence of American TV police dramas made since that decision in which the cops characters constantly give the miranda warning or more commonly known as "reading them their rights," it has become an expected element of arrest procedure around the world. A number of empirical studies have concluded, however, that the giving of Miranda warnings has little impact on whether a suspect agrees to speak to the police without an attorney. There is a growing public perception in the US that Miranda simply serves as a vehicle for releasing criminals from prison based on a "technicality." It is difficult to determine how many criminal defendants who could be convicted are instead acquitted due to Miranda, but the number is probably small.

As a result of the case, the US English vocabulary has acquired a new verb, "to mirandize" meaning to read to a suspect, held in custody, his Miranda rights.

See also: