{ subscribe_url: '/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/law.php' }

Miranda and the Rights of Suspects

The following is a guest post by Alexander Salopek, a collection development specialist in the Collection Services Division of the Law Library of Congress. He previously wrote posts on Theodore Roosevelt and Marriage Equality in the U.S.

I wanted to learn more about the person whose case defined one particular aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system. Ernesto Miranda was an unlikely person to be immortalized in American popular culture, but when he was taken in for questioning by police, the particular facts of his case pointed to an abuse of power, which the Supreme Court at the time felt it should remedy. He ultimately made a confession, which led to his conviction. His case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court – where it changed police interrogations and the law of confessions.

In late 1962 and early 1963, there were a series of violent assaults on young women in Phoenix, Arizona. The cases would likely have never been solved if it wasn’t for the specific car used in one of the assaults, a 1953 Packard sedan. It was randomly seen by one of the victim’s cousins, who had started escorting their cousin after the assault. (Stuart, 5). Subsequent police investigations, including reconnecting with the detective in charge, visiting a car dealership, and having a registration search done, led to Ernesto Miranda, who was living with a woman who owned that make and model of car (Stuart, 5-6). Miranda was cooperative with police and denied that he had anything to do with the assaults. He volunteered to go to the police station for questioning and to participate in a lineup (Stuart, 6). Once there, he should have been informed that he could be appointed an attorney, and that anything he said could be used against him in court. The victims thought that Miranda could have been the assailant, but neither was sure; if Miranda had an attorney he would likely have been let go. Unfortunately for Miranda, he believed that the victims recognized him fully and he made full confessions to the crimes (Stuart, 6-7). These confessions were used against him at his trial, where he was found guilty by a jury.

Headstone marking the grave of Ernesto Arturo Miranda in the Mesa City Cemetery [Photo by Flickr user Midnight Believer. Used under CC 2.0 license.]

When the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the conviction on Miranda’s case, they found a decision by the US Supreme Court rendered shortly before Miranda’s case, in the matter of Escobedo v. Illinois that determined that suspects had a right to counsel during police questioning. Many disagreed with the Arizona Supreme Court including John P. Frank, a former Justice Black clerk who wrote the Miranda Brief for the U S. Supreme Court, and John J. Flynn, a criminal defense attorney who argued the case in front of the U S. Supreme Court (Stuart, 53). The Supreme Court held that Miranda was not explicitly given a set of warnings before making his confession, in violation of the Fifth and the Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These warnings became known as Miranda warnings. Accordingly, “a defendant cannot be questioned by police in the context of a custodial interrogation until the defendant is made aware of the right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney and have the attorney present during questioning, and the right to have an attorney appointed if indigent.”

This meant to take a suspect into custody the officer would need to explicitly state their rights, or Mirandize them (Stuart, 80). Chief Justice Warren hoped that this would provide more knowledge to suspects and create a more just criminal justice system (Powe, 397-398).

Following the Supreme Court decision, one of Miranda’s cases was reversed and remanded to the lower court for retrial and his other conviction was also allowed to have a retrial through his new defense attorney’s work (Stuart, 92). Miranda was retried and found guilty in both cases. He was imprisoned at Arizona State Penitentiary, and once released from prison sold autographed “Miranda” warning cards in downtown Phoenix. He was stabbed to death in a bar fight about a month after he was released. As for the Miranda warning, it has become so popular in the American imagination (likely due to detective procedural TV shows, films, and books), that many can recite it from memory –  something that Chief Justice Warren may have hoped for the future when making his decision.

We’ve had a few other In Custodia Legis posts about Miranda warnings, including equivalents in other countries: You Have the Right to Remain SilentMiranda Rights and National Police Week; 2016 Law Day Program 50th Anniversary of Miranda v. Arizona; Law Library Event– the Depiction of Law in Film and Television; Human Rights and the Miranda Warning in Eastern Europe.


Cox, Archibald. (1968) The Warren Court: Constitutional Decision as an Instrument of Reform.

Powe, Jr., Lucas A. (2000) The Warren Court and American Politics.

Sayler, Richard H., Boyer, Barry B., & Gooding, Jr., Robert E. (1968)  The Warren Court: a Critical Analysis.

Stone, Geoffrey R. & Strauss, David A. (2020) Democracy and Equality: the Enduring Constitutional Vision of the Warren Court. Oxford University Press

Stuart, Gary L. (2004) Miranda: the Story of America’s Right to Remain Silent.

Herencia Hispanic Heritage Month Transcribe-a-thon Recap!

On Wednesday, October 7, the Law Library of Congress, in collaboration with By the People, the Hispanic Division, and the African, Latin American and Western European Division (ALAWE), hosted a second Transcribe-a-thon for our crowdsourcing campaign, Herencia: Centuries of Spanish Legal Documents. This event was held in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and the release […]

From the Serial Set: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and Libraries

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Digital Resources Division would like to highlight some of the documented accomplishments of Latin America in our collections. The Serial Set contains bulletins from the Pan American Conferences. Initially known as the International Union of American Republics, the Pan American Union became the Organization of American States (OAS) […]

Hispanic Heritage Month On the Shelf: What’s New

Last week, Geraldine talked about the events the Library is hosting to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Hispanic Heritage Month commemorates Mexico’s independence day (September 16: ¡Viva Hidalgo!), and the anniversaries of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. With these celebrations in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of the new materials […]

Viva la Causa! Dolores Huerta and Hispanic Heritage Month

During Hispanic Heritage Month, we remember Americans of Hispanic heritage who have positively shaped the society of the United States. Dolores Huerta is definitely a highlight on that list—and hers is a name prominent on lists of civil rights, women’s rights, immigration rights, and labor rights activists as well. If you listen to Ms. Huerta […]

Worst. Birthday. Ever. Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, United States Territories

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) this September, a survey revealed that only 54% of Americans know that the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Many Americans are also unaware that the USVI are part of the United States. Paradoxically, 2017 was not only the year […]

100 Years of Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico Becomes a U.S. Territory

The United States made a deal 100 years ago today, on March 2, 1917, when the Jones-Shafroth Act became law making Puerto Rico a territory of the United States.  The passage of the law guaranteed U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans born on or after April 25, 1898. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. William Jones […]

Hispanic Heritage Month 2016—Hispanic Americans: Embracing, Enhancing, and Enriching America

Each year, from September 15 to October 15, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month with the aim of celebrating the contributions of our fellow Americans of Hispanic ancestry. This year’s theme is Hispanic Americans:  Embracing, Enhancing, and Enriching America. The observation of this month—in which we bring forth the histories and cultures of people whose […]

On the Shelf: Hispanic Heritage Month at the Law Library

The following post is a joint effort by Betty Lupinacci (intro, photos) and Jennifer Davis (main text), both staff members in the Collection Services Division. Earlier this month Jennifer wrote about some of our newest acquisitions on piracy law.  Following that post, the Global Legal Collection Directorate decided that we would regularly highlight not only new […]

School Desegregation for All Children – The Legacy of Méndez v. Westminster

Gonzalo Méndez, William Guzmán, Frank Palomino, Thomas Estrada, and Lorenzo Ramírez, as citizens of the United States, and on behalf of their minor children, and as they allege in the petition, on behalf of ‘some 5000’ persons similarly affected, all of Mexican or Latin descent, have filed a class suit pursuant to Rule 23 of […]