Miranda Rights Should be Reconsidered

, Spencer Irvine, 1 Comment

photo by Giacomo Barbaro

photo by Giacomo Barbaro

Should the U.S. Supreme Court reconsider the famous ‘Miranda’ rights? One law professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, Paul Cassell, made a case for remaking what we know today as the ‘Miranda’ rights at a Heritage Foundation debate.

Cassell noted, “Whenever we talk about the Warren Court decisions, the sense is often the world didn’t exist until the Warren Court came along.” For the audience, he reminded them that before the court case and decision, confessions given to law enforcement were admissible in court. He gave background information on the Miranda v. Arizona case, where Ernesto Miranda raped an eighteen year-old woman and later confessed to the crime to police. However, the Warren Court ruled that Miranda’s voluntary confession had to be excluded from the case.

Television portrayals of Miranda rights, which Cassell called, “Miranda warnings,”  mostly ignore the waiver requirements attached to them. This ‘mother-may-I’ rule forces law enforcement officers “to get permission from suspects” or else “no questioning is allowed”. Even if it may be reasonable, Cassell mentioned the dissenting opinion of Justice Harlan, who said that “only time can tell” if the Miranda warnings will benefit society. “It’s been over fifty years since the Miranda decision had been handed down,” Cassell noted. Defenders of the decision claim “that Miranda is about striking a balance” and yet, American policymakers and lawyers live in an “empirical desert” of data related to the case’s effects on law enforcement and crime.

Based on available data, Cassell researched confession rates pre- and post-Miranda. He said that 49% of cases were closed due to confessions in Salt Lake City, Utah before Miranda, while six months after Miranda, it had fallen to 30%. Several other cities, ranging from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, saw confession rates drop after the court decision. Cassell estimated that it took up to two years for Miranda warnings to be fully implemented by law enforcement. The proponents of Miranda “knew there were no national statistics” to turn to in order to measure the decision’s effectiveness, which means that researchers have to use secondary statistics (i.e. other statistics that could explain the decision’s effectiveness).

Regarding clearance rates, which are often heralded by the likes of the American Bar Association, Cassell said that the “footnotes don’t bear out what claims were being made,” and looked through the physical files firsthand. He continued, “Contrary to the claims being made by Miranda’s defenders…something [that] the FBI had recorded…you can see regarding violent crime…about 65% of those were cleared before Miranda.” He added, “You can see in 1965, the last year before the Miranda decision came down… [law enforcement] cleared or solved 60% of violent crime.” He said, “Miranda, contrary to the claims made by their defenders, made a substantial blow to American law enforcement’s effectiveness.”

When he ran statistical analyses, known as multiple regression analyses, he discovered that between 56,000-136,000 additional violent crimes were cleared annually without Miranda, in addition to 72,000-299,000 property crimes cleared by law enforcement. Among his list of recommendations, Cassell advocated for discontinuing the waiver requirement, or the ‘mother-may-I’ rule, because “Miranda has become obsolete.” He said that the Miranda decision affected “people who are in the least effective position to defend themselves”, or those who live in impoverished neighborhoods where there is significant crime.

Photo by Giacomo Barbaro