Miranda - The Joke of the Criminal Justice System

Why the Miranda Case is the Laughing Stock of the Criminal Justice System

The grand daddy of all the misunderstood concepts in our criminal justice system is the great case of Miranda v. Arizona.  This article, that I am writing with the intention of explaining how the common understanding of Miranda is upside down, could be long, detailed, and build a great case for the concept that apart from being exactly the opposite of some great liberal disaster for society and victory for the cause of crime in general, Miranda was one of the best things that ever happened to law enforcement.

But the truth is that this article need not be so long and drawn out.  The basic futility of Miranda can be established simply by 1) examining what happened to Ernesto Miranda himself, 2) noting what the actual legal remedy is for a violation of Miranda, and 3) letting the reality of the consequence to law enforcement of Miranda wash over your consciousness.  Let's get this done.

But first, let's establish the common perception.

But first we must start from the common perception of Miranda.  So as everyone knows, the police are required to read to people they arrest their Miranda warnings, and if a police officer ever forgets or fails to do this, and a Judge finds out, the Judge has no power but to then immediately, if maybe reluctantly dismiss the case.  (Here is a little preview - everything about this common perception is totally false.)

1) What Happened to Ernesto Miranda himself?

Ernesto Miranda was arrested for a terrible crime.  In his dealings with the police, he made incriminating statements.  The police did not advise him prior to making those statements that the Constitution allowed him certain rights regarding the answering of questions by the police in connection with criminal investigations.  Mr. Miranda went to trial.  At trial the Government used the statements that he had made to the police.  He was convicted and sent to prison.

Eventually the case found its way to the United States Supreme Court and the Supreme Court decided the famous Miranda case.  So the Supreme Court dismissed Miranda's case, right?

Wrong.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to Arizona and told Arizona to give Mr. Miranda a new trial, and this time, just don't use those statements.  So Arizona gave Mr. Miranda a new trial, Mr. Miranda was convicted all over again, and he went back to prison.

That's right.  Mr. Miranda himself did not "go free" even though the United States Supreme Court found that his Constitutional rights were violated by the police in Arizona.

2) What is the Actual Remedy then for a Violation of Miranda?

The actual remedy for a violation of Miranda, is simply that the Government is not allowed to use any statements obtained that were obtained without the benefit of the famous Miranda warnings.  The remedy is not dismissal of the case.

And by the way, there is even a catch to the "use" of the statements.  The truth is that the Government isn't allowed to use statements obtained in violation of Miranda IN THE GOVERNMENT'S DIRECT CASE.  But later cases would tell us that the Government is perfectly free to use statements obtained in violation of Miranda against any defendant who testifies IN A DEFENSE CASE.  This is like the part of the book Animal Farm by George Orwell, when the original rule that pigs were not allowed to sleep in beds was amended to read that pigs were not allowed to sleep in beds WITH SHEETS.  This means of course that an unconstitutionally obtained statement can actually be quite useful to the Government in that it can keep a defendant off the witness stand (and thereby keep critical evidence of his defense perhaps) from the ears of the jury.

3) Actual impact of Miranda on Law Enforcement

As a result of the operation of the above rules, no case in the history in the United States of America has ever been dismissed because of a failure to read Miranda warnings to a suspect.  It has never happened, not even once.  Dismissal of the case is not the remedy.  Miranda has no real impact on law enforcement, and because simple testimony that the rights were read is enough to make the statements "voluntary" for the Courts, a whole complication of analysis is rendered virtually programmatic.  Officer, did you read the suspect his Miranda rights? "Yes".  Game, set, match.  There are some schools of thought in law enforcement that Miranda can and even should be largely ignored because even in the rare instance when a statement might be suppressed, the statement's existence will still keep the defendant off the witness stand.

Conclusion

Cases don't get dismissed.  Evidence almost never gets excluded.  When evidence does get excluded it isn't "completely" excluded and can still have a significant impact on the defense.  Miranda is the great joke of the Criminal Justice System.

By Don Murray, Esq. 

Don Murray is 27 year veteran New York City Criminal Lawyer, and founding partner of Shalley and Murray.  He has provided testimony in an international extradition matter as an expert in New York Criminal law, he has written a chapter for a multi-volume series of books for criminal defense lawyers, and he has consulted on various television and movie projects involving New York Criminal law.  Most recently he consulted on set for the NBC mini series, The Slap, where he was rewarded for his assistance by being allowed to appear briefly in the show (as an extra). He can be reached for consultation at 718-268-2171.