Anyone who ever watched a television show or movie can recite the Miranda rights that govern an accused’s privilege against self-incrimination during police questioning. But this staple of criminal law was not foreordained and was mostly limited to academic scholarship before the U.S. Supreme Court established it as a permanent part of constitutional law over 50 years ago.
Self-incrimination rights were limited to mansions
The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was an important criminal defense right before the Miranda Rule. But that right, until 1966, was usually restricted to the courtroom and was not universally applicable to police stations where interrogators could coerce a confession.
In 1965, 37-year-old University of Michigan Law School Professor Yale Kamisar published a lengthy essay where he compared this country’s legal system to a gatehouse and a mansion. The gatehouse was the police interrogation room, and the courtroom was the mansion.
He pointed out that the police station had less grandeur and operated in relatively obscurity. Behind the scenes in back rooms and elevators, police afforded less protections to the accused who did not have legal representation. At that time, especially in the southern United States, there was police brutalization of predominately Black and brown people.
Professor Kamisar argued that a criminal justice system could not endure if it relied on coerced information from the accused.
Supreme Court ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed. In 1966, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court ruled that police had to inform defendants of their right to remain silent, their right to an attorney and other constitutional rights before questioning. The Court cited Professor Kamisar’s work in its opinion.
Professor Kamisar was referred to by many as the father of Miranda. But his work was also cited by Justice Hugo Black in the Court’s 1963 landmark Gideon opinion which established the right to legal counsel in criminal cases. Over the next 50 years, the Supreme Court cited his writings in over 30 decisions.
Later in his career, Professor Kamisar defended the Miranda decision against conservative critics, co-wrote a leading criminal procedure casebook and authored significant writings on euthanasia and assisted suicide. He died on Jan. 30 at 92.
Being questioned by police can have serious and long-term consequences. It is important that you seek legal representation as soon as possible to assure that your rights are protected.