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The History Behind the Miranda Rights & Why They Are Imperative to Our Justice System 

Policeman arrests the car thief on road

The right to remain silent is an essential component of our justice system. We’ve all seen television shows and films depicting police officers reading these rights to suspects. The origin of these rights goes back to the 1960s, but the central concept behind them goes much further back to early English Common Law.

So what role do Miranda rights play in our justice system? Let’s take a look at the history. 

The Story Behind the Miranda Rights & How They Became Essential Practice 

To understand Miranda rights, we must go back to the drafting of the Bill of Rights and the 5th Amendment. At first sight, the 5th amendment appears to be technical and rather full of legal jargon. Yet, the 5th amendment is profoundly crucial to our justice system and offers necessary protection against government abuse of power. 

After the victory against the British in the Revolutionary War, the colonies reconvened and worked at developing the structure of the government. In 1788, the 13 now-independent colonies adopted the U.S. Constitution, which established a strong federal government with power reserved for the states. 

Yet, many worried that this would lead to too much centralization and excessive federal power, so various amendments were added to enshrine the rights of citizens in the common law. Many of the central amendments were rooted in a history of English Common Law and the philosophical underpinnings of philosophers such as John Locke and Montesquieu. 

The Basic Protections of the 5th Amendment

Among these basic rights outlined by the amendments, the 5th amendment granted protections to those facing civil or criminal charges, including:

Grand Jury

The first clause in the amendment discusses the grand jury clause, which states that a jury decides whether there is enough evidence to bring someone to trial. The idea behind the grand jury trial is to prevent government intimidation via the court system. 

The Double Jeopardy Clause

The Double Jeopardy Clause prevents the federal government from putting someone on trial for the same crime twice. In other words, if someone is found innocent of a crime, they cannot be put on trial for that same crime again. 

The Self-Incrimination Clause

This clause is perhaps the most well-known and recognized right from the 5th amendment. The law determines that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. The idea behind this is to prevent the government from pressuring a defendant to confess to a crime. This clause goes back to the 1600s in English Common Law.

An essential component of the self-incrimination law is that prosecutors or defense attorneys are not allowed to assume that a person who remains silent is guilty. In other words, a person who chooses not to answer a question, cannot be assumed to be guilty simply by virtue of their silence.

The Origins of the Miranda Rights As We Know Them Today

In March of 1963, a young man named Ernesto Miranda was involved in what became a landmark case regarding the 5th amendment. When Miranda was arrested, he confessed to kidnapping and rape charges while in police custody. Ernesto Miranda came into the police station out of his own free will and took part in the police lineup. Once his lawyers got to him, they found out that Miranda had not been informed that he could have lawyers present and that he could remain silent. 

The judge then overturned Miranda’s conviction on these grounds and proceeded to write what are now famous statements in the case. Justice Earl Warren wrote about the need to inform the suspect of their right to remain silent and that anything said will be used against them in court.

Reading Suspects Their Miranda Rights 

Officers can read the Miranda rights with some variation but the central message remains similar. It is technically, however, up to each state how they have their officers read the rights to suspects. The Supreme Court states that a person needs to be:

  • Informed of their right to a lawyer
  • Their right to remain silent
  • The fact that anything told to law enforcement can and will be held against the person in court

As for Ernesto Miranda in 1963, he was retried and convicted again after his original conviction was removed. His case, however, made the reading of these rights against self-incrimination anytime a person is taken into custody, is under arrest, or is interrogated by police officers a necessity. Miranda was in jail for about ten years until his release in 1976. Not long after, he was stabbed to death in a bar fight.

Are You or Loved One Facing Criminal Charges? A Trusted Attorney is Your Best Bet 

The U.S. criminal justice system is based on the edict that one is innocent until proven guilty. When someone is accused of a crime, it is important to know that they have rights. The 5th amendment guarantees that and ensures people have access to legal representation. 

Getting arrested is a very precarious, emotional, and sometimes chaotic situation. For those reasons, it’s not that difficult to say something that could be used against you in a court of law.

Are you facing charges? Whether it’s drug charges or assault charges. Remember your rights. Your lawyer will ensure they are protected and come to your legal defense. Contact Joseph & Hartshorn for more information.


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