The Right to Remain Silent: Miranda v. Arizona

“You have the right to remain silent.” Thanks to movies and television, it’s hard to conceive that this simple phrase hasn’t always been a part of our history. But before these words became a common staple of American culture, the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination was virtually impossible to protect.

Then came Ernesto Miranda.

In 1963, police investigators followed a trail of clear evidence leading directly to Ernesto Miranda’s front door. He was quickly arrested for robbery and sexual assault and taken to an interrogation room. Miranda was never advised of his right against self-incrimination, or of his Sixth Amendment right to a lawyer. Before long, he confessed.

It is this confession that came into question during Miranda’s court trial. Was his confession voluntary? Should he have had a lawyer at the time of his arrest in order to protect his rights? Miranda’s lawyer argued that the confession should be thrown out because his client had been intimidated by police. But the jury quickly convicted Ernesto Miranda and he was sentenced to serve 20 to 30 years in prison.

In 1966, Miranda, like Clarence Gideon just a few years before, wrote a handwritten petition for a writ of certiorari from prison – he asked the Supreme Court of the United States to hear his case. And it did.

The Miranda opinion, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former prosecutor and Attorney General of the state of California, declares that police intimidation threatens human dignity, and that the best way to preserve it is not through the Fifth or Sixth Amendment rights alone, but through a marriage of the two: The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination via the Sixth Amendment right to a lawyer to protect the privilege.

The Right to Remain Silent chronicles the legal, social and historical background that led to the Supreme Court’s 1966 Miranda decision, including the country’s history of police brutality and the legal controversies regarding the Court’s expansion of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

The Right to Remain Silent: Miranda v. Arizona is a story of how a man, guilty of heinous crimes, influenced and ultimately improved the law – and with it strengthened our constitutional rights.

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Annenberg Foundation

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Producer, Writer and Narrator, Robe Imbriano Associate Producers, Gregory Blanc and Tiffany Hagger Editor, Marc Tidalgo Graphics Animators, Victoria Nece and Hiroaki Sasa Photography, Edward Marritz Production Associate, Stephanie Chang Coordinating Producer, Heidi Christenson Sound, Mark Mandler and Roger Phenix Music, Gavin Allen and Ben Decter Production Accountants, Mara Connolly and Andrea Yellen Interns, Jennie Joyce and Kelin Long Assistant to the Executive Producer, Jo Budzolowicz and Daphne Grayson Senior Producer, Kayce Freed Jennings Executive Producer, Tom Yellin



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