Ernesto Miranda was a criminal. He was a convicted juvenile criminal, he was a criminal while in the military that got him a dishonorable discharge, and lastly, he was an adult, habitual criminal. Why do we care about Ernesto Miranda? Well, the landmark US Supreme Court case Arizona v. Miranda brought Ernesto infamy and brought American citizens a clear ruling regarding their rights upon arrest.
We have all read the Miranda warning at least once in our life or heard it on your favorite TV cop show. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court. You have the right to an attorney and further you have the right to have that attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, you have the right to have one appointed by the Court. The case was decided by the Court on June 13, 1966. Miranda had been arrested in Arizona for kidnapping, robbery and a sex assault. The Court ruled that even though Ernesto confessed to the offenses the police were investigating, he had not been advised of his rights and therefore the confession was not admissible.
The police had enough evidence, independent of the thrown out confession, that Miranda was re-tried for his crimes after the first conviction was set aside by the high Court. The second time proved the charm as Ernesto was convicted and sentenced 20-30 years in the Arizona State Prison System. He was paroled after serving just 11 years of his sentence.
I thought of good old Ernesto this morning after reading that the present Supremes are doing some trimming to the Miranda warning that has held its ground since 1966. They put limits on the warnings and the rights that go with them three times during this last session. In one instance regarding the right to remain silent and have counsel present during questioning the Supremes said that is good for about 14 days. The Court said that two weeks was adequate time to go find out their rights and get lawyered up before being contacted by the big, bad POLeese again, if a suspect in a criminal investigation.
I have a love for this ruling above and beyond any court case I have ever studied as a cop and defense attorney. The core premise that a suspect in a crime be advised of his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination is the granite foundation of our criminal justice system, in my opinion. Having the valued right to remain silent, whether guilty or innocent, is paramount for individual rights.
When I was a cop I used to carry around a “Miranda” card in my shirt pocket..it was laminated. I knew the warning by memory, but it always made a better impression and suspects truly paid better attention if I pulled it out and read from it. I used it for my advantage, some cops bitched about it…but I thought it was the best tool I had. Post Miranda evidence and confessions were solid and I documented the warning every way I could to protect my case. Tainted evidence is the proverbial “fruit of the poisonous tree” and is excluded under the law. All my criminal investigations were grounded with the Miranda and I thought of poor old Ernesto every time I read from the card.
It seems that Ernesto really liked the fact that he was a celebrity of sorts after he was released from State prison. He got himself a box full of Miranda cards and would go around telling people his story, loving the fact that his name was printed at the top of the warnings. Being the kind of guy he was, he charged people $1.50 per card, but he thought it was a bargain because he also took care to autograph each one. I have looked around trying to find one of these cards…if you find one, let me know. I am willing to spend at least $2.50…inflation you see.
Ernesto walked into the La Amapola Bar on the night of New Years Eve, 1976. He was in search of a card game and found one…he also found trouble. Trouble had been around him his entire 34 years on earth but he had always managed to finagle out of it. It was not to be this night, words were exchanged, an accusation of cheating was levied, and one knife entered Ernesto’s chest.
Mortally wounded, Ernesto layed on the floor of the dive bar. The suspect ran but was tackled by others in the bar and held until the police made the scene. Bleeding to death, Ernesto, could not communicate to the investigating officers. One of them bent down and retrieved his wallet from his back jean pocket. Inside the wallet, was an Arizona state I.D., along with several yellow, Miranda Warning cards.
The arresting officer walked over to the suspect and read the warning to him off of an autographed card. The suspect exercised his right to remain silent and never made a statement. He later posted bond and absconded to Mexico before his first court appearance…never to be seen again.
Ernesto Miranda died that night on arrival at the hospital. You can argue that his was a wasted life…a life of crime and of putting others in misery. I say quite the contrary….his life was one of value and I continue to enforce that value every day I practice…as do all people involved in our criminal justice system. Do we really believe in justice…in equality under the law…in protecting the rights of all individuals under the law? IF your answer is yes….then you have to give it up a little for Ernesto. I am sorry for the victims of his crimes, I hope they recovered and lived good and productive lives. I am sorry for Ernesto and the miserable life he chose to live on this earth…but the irony of it is that out of that misery came something good. Every life has value, every person has some good in them, even if you don’t want their autograph.