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Policy Statements- The Necessity of Miranda Warnings

The Miranda rule was adopted by the Supreme Court in 1966 with the goal of assuring that individuals in police custody who are subject to interrogation be advised of the right to exercise the privilege under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution not to be compelled to incriminate themselves as well as the right under the Sixth Amendment to have an attorney present during the questioning. Statements obtained before such a warning has been given are not usable by the prosecution to prove the defendant's guilt.

The rule provides, in simple terms, that a person who has been taken into custody be advised of the very constitutional safeguards which were adopted to protect persons in such a situation. It was adopted because lay persons are generally not aware of such rights and because police interrogation in a custodial setting has been shown to have an inherently coercive effect on those who are questioned. As the Supreme Court observed in the Miranda decision, the issues before the Court raised "questions which go to the roots of our concepts of American criminal jurisprudence: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for the crime."

In recent years, attacks have been made against the Miranda rule on the grounds that it impedes effective police work and results in the release of guilty defendants on mere technicalities. Reliable studies have shown, however, that over the past 20 years, confessions have been excluded from evidence in only a very small percentage of criminal cases and that, rather than impacting adversely on sound law enforcement, adherence to Miranda results in more professional police conduct. In fact, many agencies in this country, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had insisted, long before the Miranda ruling, and without any adverse effect on effective police practices, that police advise defendants of their Constitutional rights. This is what FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said in 1952 in regard to his Bureau's practice of advising suspects of their rights:

Law enforcement, however, in defeating the criminal, must maintain inviolate the historic liberties of the individual. To turn back the criminal, yet, by so doing, destroy the dignity of the individual, would be a hollow victory.

... We can have the Constitution, the best laws in the land, and the most honest reviews by courts-but unless the law enforcement profession is steeped in the democratic tradition, maintains the highest in ethics, and makes its work a career of honor, civil liberties will continually- and without end-be violated.... The best protection of civil liberties is enforcement agency. There can be no alternative."

We must always remember that the Bill of Rights is our primary safeguard against overreaching police conduct. Its provisions must be jealously guarded and scrupulously adhered to. It is, and always has been, a basic tenet of our system of criminal justice that the prosecution must go about proving a defendant's guilt without any coerced assistance from the accused. The Miranda rule helps to assure that and thereby preserve the fundamental underpinnings of our Constitutional system of justice.

drafted by Michael Lightfoot


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