Note to teacher: Before beginning this activity, students should complete Controversy over the Court's Decision. This will help them become familiar with the arguments in Miranda.
Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that when police arrest a suspect and are about to question that individual, they must inform the suspect of his or her constitutional rights to remain silent and to consult with an attorney prior to and during interrogation. Through this decision, the Court hoped to alleviate what they perceived to be "the inherent pressures of the interrogation atmosphere." As Chief Justice Earl Warren pointed out, the Court wanted to make sure that a suspect who waived his or her right to silence did so "voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently."
If you watch television, you are probably familiar with the Miranda warning. What you may not know is that in the case, Chief Justice Warren stressed that those exact words are not required, as long as the words used are "fully as effective . . . in informing accused persons of their right of silence and in affording a continuous opportunity to exercise it." This meant that all states and the federal government could actually decide for themselves how to inform suspects of their rights.
Section 3501 of the 1968 Crime Bill
To that end, in 1968, Congress passed a law which said that in determining whether or not confessions are voluntary and admissible in Court, the reading of Miranda warnings is just one of several factors that should be considered. Other factors the Court should think about include the following: 1) whether any warnings were given, 2) the time that elapsed between arrest and confession, and 3) whether the defendant knew with certainty that he could request a lawyer. Missteps in any one of these areas would not necessarily result in the inadmissibility of the confession. In essence, this made the admissibility of confessions hinge exclusively on whether or not they were made "voluntarily." This law was virtually ignored for decades because both Democrats and Republicans questioned its constitutionality.
Dickerson v. United States (2000)
In 2000, a case that hinged on the constitutionality of the 1968 law came before the Supreme Court. The case began when federal law enforcement officials followed a man suspected of driving the getaway car in a bank robbery in Virginia to his home in Takoma Park, Maryland. He refused to let them search his apartment, but while they were there, they noticed a large wad of money on his bed. Though he wouldn't allow a search, he did agree to accompany police to headquarters, where they questioned him and told him they had gotten a warrant to search his home. He confessed. Later, he claimed that he was not read his Miranda rights in a timely manner.
His lawyers presented this argument to the U.S. District Court, which agreed with him. As a result, the District Court threw out his confession and the evidence found in his apartment. When the case was appealed, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals cited the 1968 crime bill, saying that "technical violations" of Miranda should no longer result in the inadmissibility of evidence.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which was faced with whether to let the decision made by the Fourth Circuit stand, thus overturning the precedent that requires law enforcement officials to read suspects the Miranda warnings.
Triad Activity: You Be the Judge (and the Lawyers)
- After the class has read the material above, the class should divide into three groups of equal size.
- Group One will be composed of lawyers who will argue that the Supreme Court of the United States should uphold the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and overturn (reverse the decision) Miranda v. Arizona.
- Group Two will be composed of lawyers who will argue that the Supreme Court of the United States should overturn the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and affirm (keep the decision) Miranda v. Arizona.
- Group Three will be composed of justices on the Supreme Court of the United States who will listen to arguments presented by the two sides and make a decision.
- In order to begin preparing for the activity, all groups will answer the questions these questions. Record your group's responses in your notebook or on a piece of paper.
- What are the competing interests that the Court needs to weigh in this case?
What are the arguments for upholding Miranda v. Arizona and requiring that police read suspects the Miranda warnings?
What are the arguments for overturning Miranda v. Arizona?
What are some potential consequences if Miranda was overturned and states could decide for themselves how to inform suspects of their rights?
Can the Court make a decision that overturns one of its earlier decisions? In this case, should it?
- Groups One and Two, the lawyers, will outline their arguments. Group Three, the Supreme Court justices, will prepare questions to ask the lawyers. Again, all individuals will record these questions in their notebooks or on a piece of paper.
- The teacher will assign all students to a "triad" composed of one member from each of the three groups. In this triad, the lawyers will each present their side of the case. The justice will listen to the arguments and ask questions. The lawyers will be given an opportunity to respond to the questions and to the arguments presented by the other side. The teacher can time these arguments and questions to ensure efficient use of class time.
- After both sides have presented their arguments and answered questions posed by the justice, the justice will take some time to think about the case. The justice will then make a decision and share that decision, including the reasoning behind it, with the lawyers.
- The teacher will conduct a discussion to debrief the class.
Read about the Supreme Court's decision in Dickerson v. United States.