The Miranda Law

The Miranda Law was the result of a Supreme Court decision on the case titled as Miranda versus Arizona in 1966. In that particular case, the Supreme Court ruled that a suspected criminal’s confession obtained under interrogation by the police will only be valid as evidence if the suspect in question was informed of his right to an attorney and the right against self-incrimination before and during the interrogation. It also required that the suspect understand what these meant and that a voluntary waiver of these rights was done by the suspect before the confession. The decision was considered a landmark since it now required police officers to make sure that persons to be arrested where informed of their rights, which became known as the “Miranda Warning.”

Despite the enforcement of the ruling however, the Miranda warning is not without its critics. Some argue that the ruling was unfair especially the need for suspects to be informed of their rights. There are also arguments that state the ruling does not really apply well in practice since most of the suspected criminals eventually waive their rights. However, mainly due to popularity of police shows in television, the idea of informing a suspect of his or her rights became widely accepted.

Then came Missouri versus Seibert. Patrice Seibert was a suspect in an arson case and was interrogated at the police station. The officer handling the interrogation did what was already their practice, that is, to first obtain a confession, then inform the suspect of her rights and then question her again in order to get the confession. Thus,  Seibert was not told of her rights prior to being questioned. The Supreme Court ruled that in order for the second confession to be admissible, if the Miranda warning was given and understood by the suspect. In this instance, the Supreme Court focused on the effectiveness of the Miranda warning. The Justices said that the way the interrogation was done should be reviewed and see if it was used to undermine the Miranda warning. A dissenting opinion said that the method had a precedent and was admissible as long as the confession was not coerced from the suspect.

In the majority opinion, the Court applied a multifactor test to review the interrogation process undergone by Seibert. In its test, the Court looked at the the way the questions were asked during the first part of the interrogation. The Court also looked at the two confessions overlapped when it came to content. The length and location of the first and second round of interrogation was also considered as a factor as well as the degree of the questions raised by the officers in both the first and second rounds. As a result, the Court reached a conclusion that the Miranda warnings given to Seibert did not become as effective as it was hoped.

The question remains, in order to make better decisions on cases involving the Miranda rights, should the Courts follow a multifactor test as done in Missouri v. Seibert or should a bright line rule be used instead?

The bright-line rule is term that means that shows a clear standard or rule. The rule made is based on a number of factors. The idea behind having a bright line rule is for courts to make consistent results. An example of a good use of a bright line rule are statutory rape laws where the factors to be considered are typically the age of the victim and the offender. Bright line rules are therefore used as standards in precedent or even in statutory provisions.

While having clear cut rules may be good, there are some who argue that a multi factor or balancing test is still preferable. The main reason being that the rule implemented may not be appropriate for a particular situation specially that human beings are considered as complex creatures. It is because of this over-simplicity that bright line rules can sometimes result in ruling that can be either harsh or even unjust.

How then will this fair when it comes to the issue of Miranda warnings. On one hand, by applying a bright line rule to the Miranda Law, then the possibility of confusion may be lessened. However, this would also mean that police officers would have to revise what they are currently practicing and could even find it harder for them to get a confession. Mainly because a suspect can always avail of his Miranda rights and seek for counsel. On the other hand, applying a multifactor test could give law enforcement some room to move but could lead to different ways on interpreting the factors.

 Regardless of what method is done, the results are still the same. Criminal suspects could be set free because of lapses in using the Miranda Law.

I believe however that despite the prominence of the Miranda Law on popular culture, that is on crime series or police drama series on television, the Miranda Law is not reaching the objective that it was made to do. Presently, despite the presence of the Miranda Law, suspects do not have the level of protection as originally intended

The original was actually clear and well defined. If the suspect was not told of his or her rights, then whatever confession obtained was not admissible in Court. Because of exception cases though, the bright-line rule as intended was ruined.

The multifactor test raised in Missouri v. Seibert tried to answer the issue of circumventing the Miranda Law but was still not good enough. The factors, as stated in the Seibert ruling are not objective and does not offer to have clear guidelines. As with any multifactor test, the goal is always to balance things. To look at the different factors that lead to the decision and the action. One can therefore say that the multifactor test done in Seibert is a lot like the totality of the circumstances test. Whereas a totality test looks at all the factors, a multifactor test just looks at particular factors that are relevant to the situation.

The Miranda Law is a good law and is being practiced not only in the United States but also in other countries, albeit a few differences. If the United States is serious in its fight to protect the rights of everyone, then it should implement a bright line warning rule in order to eliminate vagueness.

A bright line warning rule will not only ensure that Miranda’s own rules are strengthened but also protect the suspect from the two-step form of interrogation being practiced by most law enforcement offices. Applying a multifactor test to a Miranda dispute can lead to the objectivity being reduced or even an inconsistent application of the rule of law. Application of a bright line rule will help ensure that suspects won’t go free because of technicalities like being given defective Miranda warnings.

The Miranda Doctrine will be greatly reinforced if a bright line law is in place. Having a bright line rule in place will also prevent future occurrences of coerced confessions. An example of a bright line warning rule in this case would be police officers giving suspected criminals another warning which states that the statement given prior to being informed by Miranda rights will not be admissible to Court.

While the bright line warning rule seems like a stop-gap or temporary measure in this case, applying it means a step in the right path. Over the years law enforcers have found ways to circumvent the law, especially with Miranda. It is now therefore the turn of the Court to ensure that every suspect will have his or her rights fully protected.

Sources:

Hoover, Lucy Ann. (2005). The Supreme Court brings an end to the “end run” around Miranda. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, The. Retrieved November 20, 2008 from FindArticles.com.

MirandaWarning.org. Post-Arrest Questioning. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from http://www.mirandawarning.org/post-arrestquestioning.html

US Consitution Online. The Miranda Warning. Retrieved November 20, 2008 from http://www.usconstitution.net/miranda.html