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Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

This case answers a couple of questions:

  1. What is the Miranda Warning?
  2. When must the Miranda Warning be given?
  3. When must the Police stop questioning a suspect?

In order to comply with the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, an individual must be warned that: they have a right to remain silent, any statement they make may be used as evidence against them, they have a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed, and that the individual understands that they possess all of the previously listed rights.

The issue in this case falls on the admissibility of statements that are obtained when an individual has ben subject to custodial police interrogation and has failed to be informed of their rights accorded to them under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution not to be compelled to incriminate themselves. The Court stated that in order to comply with the Fifth Amendment the prosecution is barred from using statements, exculpatory or inculpatory, that are gathered from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless the State can demonstrate that it complied with effective procedural safeguards that secure the privilege against self-incrimination. Id. at 444. The Court further defined custodial interrogation as “questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.” Id. at 467. The Court analyzed extensive background materials regarding the methods used during these interrogations and determined that the custodial interrogation “exacts a heavy toll on individual liberty and trades on the weakness of individuals” and furthered that unless there was a proper limitation imposed on these interrogations, there can be no assurance that the statements omitted were truly the product of free choice. Id. at 457. The Court noted that a confession is only voluntary in law if it was, in fact, voluntarily made. Id. at 462. Therefore, if a confession was obtained via compulsion, under threat, or trickery, it must be excluded no matter the character of the compulsion. Id. at 461.

The Court first addresses the right of the individual to remain silent and that this privilege is only fulfilled when the individual chooses to speak “in the unfettered exercise of [their] own will.” Id. at 460. The individual must be informed at the outset of the interrogation of this right and that if they choose to speak, anything they say may be used against them in court. Id. at 465. Further, the Court ruled that if an individual indicates in any manner that they do not wish to be interrogated at any time prior or during questioning, the interrogation must cease. Id. at 474. In accordance with the Fifth Amendment, the Court also ruled that the right to have counsel, retained or appointed, present during the interrogation is indispensable. Id. at 476. This right shall give the individual the right to have counsel present prior to, or during, the questioning. Id. at 479. Further, the Court stated that the authorities cannot ignore or deny this request on the basis that the individual does not currently have an attorney or cannot afford one. Id. The individual may choose to enact this privilege at any stage of the process and the authorities must comply and cease the interrogation until the individual has met with an attorney. Id. at 444.

The Court noted that an individual does have the choice to waive these rights so long as they do so voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently after the warnings have been given. Id. An individual may choose to do so, and any subsequent statement that is given freely and voluntarily without any compelling influence is admissible and is not barred by the Fifth Amendment. Id. at 476. However, a law enforcement officer may not presume that silence of the accused after receiving the warnings constitutes a waiver of these rights, nor shall the officer assume that any of these rights have been waived when an individual chooses to answer some questions prior to invoking their right to remain silent when interrogated. Id.

The Court ruled that in order to comply with the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, an individual must be warned that: they have a right to remain silent, any statement they make may be used as evidence against them, they have a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed, and that the individual understands that they possess all of the previously listed rights. The burden is placed on the State to show that these rules have been complied with. Id. This lead to the subsequent conclusion by the Court that in all of the present cases, the officers did not provide the appropriate safeguards at the beginning of the interrogation in order to guarantee that the statements made were truly the product of free choice. Id. at 457.

In the present cases, Miranda was not advised of his right to consult with an attorney or have one present, nor was he advised of his right against self-incrimination in any other manner. The Court held that simply signing a statement that contained that he had the full knowledge of his legal rights was an ineffective waiver of his constitutional rights, and was, therefore, inadmissible. Id. at 492. Similarly, Vignera was not advised of any of his rights before his questioning, and no additional steps were taken to protect his Fifth Amendment rights, subsequently the Court concluded that his rights were also violated. Id. at 494. Further, the Court ruled that Westover did not intelligently waive his Fifth Amendment protections because his warnings came at the end of the interrogation process. Id. at 495. Finally, in California, the Court ruled that Stewart was also violated of his Fifth Amendment protections because there was nothing on the record that specifically indicated that he was advised of his right to remain silent or his right to counsel. Id. at 498. The Court specifically stated that they will not “presume that a defendent has been effectively appraised of his rights” and thus a violation of his rights occurred. Id.

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