The Origin of The Miranda Warning
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering at any time.” — The Miranda warning
Miranda warnings today are universal in the justice system as a constitutional right to an attorney and against self-incrimination. But what few know today is the origin and story behind the Miranda warning.
According to the National Constitution Center, the “Miranda” in the term comes from Ernesto Miranda, a man arrested in March of 1963 for rape and kidnapping. While in police custody, Miranda confessed to kidnapping and rape charges.
However, his lawyers wanted to overturn the conviction. During cross-examination in his trial, Miranda’s lawyer wasn’t told he had the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer.
That would later be the framework for Miranda v. Arizona, a 1966 case that determined the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ensures people must be read their rights to consult an attorney before and during questioning, and that every defendant had the right against self-incrimination.
Who was Ernesto Miranda?
Mitchell Caldwell and Michael Leif at the American Heritage magazine say that Ernesto Arturo Miranda was born in Mesa, Arizona, on March 9, 1941, to a Mexican immigrant. After his mother died, he didn’t get along well with his father, who remarried.
Miranda was first convicted of a crime when he was in eighth grade — he was convicted of burglary and sent to reform school. In that time period, Miranda attended the Queen of Peace Grammar School in Mesa, Arizona. After his release, Miranda was arrested for attempted rape and assault.
In 1956, Miranda was released from the reform school at the Arizona State Industrial School for Boys (ASISB), and he returned there several times after getting in trouble for the law. He eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he served 45 days in county detention for curfew violations and an armed robbery, and then sent back to Arizona.
For Miranda, his only option at the time was going into the U.S. Army. He spent a year and a half in the military and spent a third of his time in service working hard labor for peeping Tom acts and going absent without leave permission. He eventually left the military on an honorable discharge and went to Texas, where he was sent to federal prison for a year after stealing cars.
At that point, Miranda seemed to get his life together. He moved in with a woman named Twila Hoffman in California, who had just separated from her husband but didn’t have money for a divorce. Miranda was 21, and Hoffman was 29, and Hoffman had two children.
The two had a daughter together, and Miranda and Hoffman and their children moved back to Mesa. Miranda worked at a dockworker, while Twila Hoffman worked at a nursing school. He hadn’t held a single job for more than two weeks up to that point, and he worked so well that his supervisor said he was “one of the best workers [he had] ever had.”
In 1963, an 18-year-old woman named Patricia Weir (not her real name), who lived in Phoenix, worked at a local movie theater. The day was March 2, 1963, and one movie caused her to stay late at the theater. The bus didn’t reach her stop until 12:10 a.m. She later went home and walked up the street, but before she got home, a man jumped out of a car, grabbed her, and put a hand over her mouth:
“Don’t scream, and you won’t get hurt.”
She asked the man to “let me go, please let me go,” but he dragged her into the car, tied her hands behind her back, and made her lie down in the back. The man drove the car for 20 minutes, and then untied Weir and forced himself upon her, and then made her give him whatever money she had in the backseat. He drove her back to her house and said:
“Whether you tell your mother what has happened or not is none of my business, but pray for me.”
Weir pounded on the door, crying as she told her sister what happened. The sister called the police, and Weir was taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital to be examined — two detectives interviewed her. She said the attacker was:
“[a] Mexican male, twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old, five feet eleven inches, 175 pounds, slender build, medium complexion with black, short-cut, curly hair, wearing Levi’s, a white T-shirt, and dark-rim glasses.”
However, when later asked, she wasn’t sure what the man’s nationality was. She said he might have been Italian, and the police didn’t have much to go off of to continue the investigation. However, Weir’s brother-in-law, who picked her up at the bus stop after the attack, said he saw a car, a Packard, with a license plate of DFL-312 stalking the street and the car. The car, a 1953 Packard, belonged to Twila Hoffman.
Caldwell and Leif later say that Miranda went to bed one night after a 12-hour-shift at work, and a couple of detectives arrived at his home. According to Ron Dungan at AZ Central, Hoffman answered the door with a baby, and the two children were with her. Miranda awoke, and the detectives asked him to come with them to the police station.
“We’d rather not talk to you about this in front of your family,” Detective Carroll Cooley said.
They led him to a four-man lineup, where Weir identified him. They also led Miranda to an interrogation room, where he confessed for two hours to rape and kidnapping. Miranda later said the cops coerced him into a confession after being dead tired from the graveyard shift. The detectives later brought Weir into the room, and then Miranda said: “that’s the girl.”
He gave a detailed account that matched Weir’s story and then agreed to his confession's written statement. At the confession was a disclaimer that a suspect was confessing “with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make can be used against me.” Miranda signed the disclaimer, and then the district attorney filed charged against Ernesto Miranda for rape and kidnapping.
Miranda would be represented by an attorney named Alvin Moore, who represented Miranda at the Maricopa County Courthouse. Caldwell and Leif describe Moore as “a passionless defense attorney” in a very run of the mill case at the courthouse.
Four witnesses took the stand, and Miranda’s confession would be presented as well. Weir testified as well, an emotional testimony that had a tremendous effect on the jury. Moore, however, at one point, questioned Cooley about the interrogation.
He asked if Cooley read Miranda his rights. Cooley confirmed that he read the statement.
He then questioned Cooley about the statement — it didn’t include anything about the defendant being entitled to the advice of an attorney.
Knowing this, Moore tried to make a formal motion to exclude the confession, but the motion was denied. The jury deliberated after being instructed by the judge. The jury of three women and nine men found him guilty, unanimously.
Moore later filed an appeal about Miranda’s trial, where he asked two pivotal questions that would shape legal history:
“Was [Miranda’s] statement made voluntarily?”
“Was [he] afforded all the safeguards to his rights provided by the Constitution of the United States and the law and rules of the courts?”
Miranda himself would push the case after the Arizona Supreme Court decided that Miranda’s confession was given voluntarily and had been properly admitted since Miranda had not sought counsel. Miranda then filed a request himself to the Supreme Court, which caught the attention of Robert J. Corcoran, an attorney at the ACLU. Corcoran fought to have Miranda’s Supreme Court case considered, but Moore refused to press on with the case.
Corcoran found assistance in a trial lawyer named John J. Flynn, who worked at a firm that took two cases for the ACLU a year. Flynn solicited the help of an associate named John P. Frank, who clerked for Hugo L. Black, and the two of them would work on the case. Frank and Flynn would correspond with Miranda frequently, and Miranda was very thankful for their help, saying “to know that someone has taken an interest in my case, has increased my moral enormously.”
Miranda v. Arizona
Preceding Miranda v. Arizona in the Supreme Court were cases like Gideon v. Wainwright, a 1963 case that guaranteed the right to the attorney, and Escobedo v. Ilinois, a 1964 case that protected the right of criminal suspects to have a right to counsel during police interrogations. Both of these cases were protected under the Sixth Amendment.
For the Warren Court, which fervently protected constitutional rights in desegregating the school system and prohibited prayer in public schools, the Miranda case was the convenient successor. Escobedo v. Ilinois made many clerks, by 1966, have to mark “Escobedo” on cases that had coerced confessions — and Earl Warren then chose Miranda’s case where he was, in the words of Caldwell and Leif, “interrogated for two hours without being informed of either his right to remain silent or his right to counsel.”
Escobedo’s case, however, was different from Miranda. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office made the argument that Escobedo’s confession was more coerced. The police made an effort to stop him from seeing a lawyer — Miranda had no such concerted effort. Escobedo also had a clean record, and Miranda had not, suggesting that Miranda knew the interrogation process. Frank, on the other hand, gave an argument about constitutional rights. Caldwell and Leif say:
“It was the battle of constitutional rights versus the possibility of turning dangerous criminals back into the streets. It was the battle of good versus evil. But what was the ultimate good? And which was the worst evil?”
On June 13, 1966, the Warren Court decided — 5–4, in favor of Miranda. The liberal justices of the court decided in favor, while the conservative justices decided against. The Court made sure that the Fifth Amendment would be the backbone of the Miranda protections. Earl Warren wrote the opinion and said:
“This Court has recognized that coercion can be mental as well as physical, and that the blood of the accused is not the only hallmark of an unconstitutional inquisition.”
To expand, Warren wrote the words that are cited almost verbatim in the Miranda warning today, if a person is subject to interrogation:
“[He] has the right to remain silent … that anything said can and will be used against the individual in court … that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation … [and] that if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.”
Warren said that Miranda was not told of his right to an attorney and have one present, nor was Miranda given his right against self-incrimination. His confession was inadmissible since he had not been given these warnings.
Caldwell and Leif note that opposition to the Warren Court grew because of the Miranda ruling — the Court had, after all, let a confessed rapist go free. Miranda warnings are standard in the justice system and the reading of these rights has become universal.
Ernesto Miranda wasn’t actually free after the Warren Court ruled his confession was inadmissible. He became a celebrity and became “the most popular inmate at the Arizona State Prison,” and frequently signed autographs and gave legal advice.
However, the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office retried the case without the confession. Before the trial, Twila Hoffman talked with the prosecutor and said that Miranda confessed he’d kidnapped and raped an 18-year-old girl when she visited him in prison, and then asked Hoffman to visit Weir’s family. He asked Hoffman to convey his promise to marry Weir if she dropped the charges, and that he would return to Hoffman later, but wanted to get out of jail.
With Twila Hoffman and the victim on the stand, Hoffman was sentenced to 20 to 30 years by the jury for rape and kidnapping, the same sentence as his original trial.
“This letter is very close to harassment. Any other correspondence as to this matter will result in Legal action.”
In 1972, Ernesto Miranda was paroled. However, he violated his parole, went back to jail, and was freed again in 1975. He was 34 years old, and in a bar called “the Deuce” in Phoenix, he was playing cards with two Mexican immigrants. They got into an argument, and the two men stabbed Miranda to death. The bartender said the fight ended very quickly. By the time he arrived in the hospital, Miranda was pronounced dead.
Once police arrested Fernando Rodriguez, one of the men who killed Miranda, they read him his Miranda rights, in English and Spanish.