Understanding the Law
May 25, 2007
Miranda Warning/Rights

A FEW WEEKS AGO we looked at PACE and in particular Section 76 which governs confessions. We also looked at Code C which provides the procedure for detention, treatment and questioning of suspects. This week we would look at equivalent provisions for the admissibility in evidence of confessions under the American laws.{{more}}

Confession or incriminating admission is governed by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. An important aspect of the United States laws is that it makes provisions for Amendments to the constitution (there are twenty-seven amendments to date, the latest was in 1992.) The Fourth Amendment has to do with search and seizure limitations; the Fifth Amendment gives the defendant’s rights against testimonial self- incrimination; the Sixth Amendment provides rights regarding the assistance of Counsel and the Fourteenth Amendment protects involuntary confessions.

Fourteenth Amendment

As with the Common Law in the English system, the Fourteenth Amendment requires confession to be voluntary under the due process clause in order for it to be admissible in evidence. Voluntariness is assessed on the totality of circumstances and takes into account the suspect’s age, education and mental and physical conditions with the setting, duration and manner of police interrogation. Where the confession was obtained by physically beating the defendant it was considered to be involuntary (Brown v Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278 (1956). The interrogator must not extend any promise or threaten the defendant otherwise the Court could find the confession to be involuntary.

Fifth Amendment

The Fifth Amendment provides a privilege against self- incrimination (the right to be silent) and is interpreted to mean that a person shall not be compelled to give self incriminating evidence. The Fifth Amendment privilege was interpreted in the case of Miranda v Arizona 384 U.S.436 (1966) where a ruling was made upon the admissibility of a confession.

Miranda v Arizona

Ernesto Miranda was arrested for kidnapping and rape in 1963. He made a confession without being told of his constitutional rights to remain silent and his rights to have an attorney present at the police investigation. He was convicted on the basis of his confession. He appealed to the Supreme Court and his conviction was overturned in 1966. The Supreme Court thought that he was intimidated by his interrogation and he did not understand his right to remain silent. The Defendant was however convicted in a new trial with witnesses testifying against him and other evidence presented. He received a sentence of eleven years. Ironically the rights that were established in his case were later used by his killer who declined to give a statement.

Miranda Warnings

The Miranda warnings provide a safeguard for the suspect’s rights. Miranda must be administered before questioning starts. However, the police may request information about the person such as his name, date of birth and address before administering the Miranda warnings. The police may take the evidence if the suspect waives his rights to the Miranda warnings. The Supreme Court did not give the exact warnings and every jurisdiction has its own variation but the person in custody must prior to interrogation be told he has a right to be silent, anything he says can be used against him in court, he has a right to the presence of an attorney and if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for him if he so desires. Some states have instead “we have no way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, if and when you go to court.” The police officer has to make sure that the suspect understands his rights. He has a duty to make the relevant enquiry. The warnings are to be administered for minor as well as serious crimes.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com