Street Law, Inc. and The Supreme Court Historical Society present

Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

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Background Summary & Questions (•)

Ernesto Miranda was a poor man who lived in Arizona in 1963. A woman accused Miranda of committing a crime against her. The police arrested Miranda and asked him questions about the crime for two hours.

In the United States, people who are accused of crimes have certain rights granted by the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution says that they have the right to be silent. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution says that they have the right to have a lawyer to help defend themselves.

The police did not tell Miranda that he had these rights when they arrested him. After the police were finished asking Miranda questions, he signed a confession. The police used his confession in the trial and Miranda was convicted of the crime. The judge decided he should serve 20 to 30 years in prison for each crime.

Miranda appealed his case to the highest court in Arizona, called the Supreme Court of Arizona. His attorney argued that his confession should not have been used as evidence in his trial because Miranda had not been informed of his rights, and no attorney had been present to assist him during his interrogation. The government argued that Miranda had been convicted of crimes before, and so he should have known his rights. The Arizona Supreme Court denied his appeal and upheld Miranda's conviction.

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear Miranda's case. The decision in Miranda v. Arizona was handed down in 1966.

Questions to Consider
  1. What rights of the accused does the Fifth Amendment protect? The Sixth Amendment? 
  2. If the police had informed Ernesto Miranda of these rights, do you think he would have done anything differently? 
  3. This case involves balancing the rights of the accused against society's need to to fight crime. Could informing accused persons of their rights hurt the ability of the police to fight crime? Why or why not? 
  4. Do you think that informing people of their rights when they are accused of crimes helps protect innocent citizens? Why or why not?
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