Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Miranda Decision

Most of you, I think, will be familiar with this kind of dialogue:

One cop says, “Read him his rights.”
Or “Mirandize him.”
And his partner turns to the suspect and breaks into a litany that begins, “You have the right to remain silent.”

But do you know the origin of all that?
If you do, scroll down to below the second cartoon.
If not, keep reading.

It all started with this guy, Ernesto Arturo Miranda. 

In March of 1963, Miranda was busted by the cops in Phoenix, Arizona, on a charge of rape. They told him he’d been positively identified by the victim.
They were lying.
But it caused him to confess, and he was convicted.

His lawyers appealed, arguing that he hadn’t been informed of his right to remain silent, a clear violation of his civil rights.

To Miranda's surprise, and probably even to their own, they ultimately managed to bring the case before the United States Supreme Court.

Where the justices, depicted in this photograph of the time, agreed with them in a 5:4 decision.
It was handed down on the 13th of June, 1966, and read, in part:

“The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.”

As a result of the ruling, police departments in the United States started issuing “Miranda Cards” containing a text designed to be recited to suspects prior to interrogation. The cards generally look like this:

Not surprisingly, confessions, after the introduction of Miranda Cards, dropped-off drastically.
Which, in turn, forced law-enforcement in the United States to focus, more and more, upon forensic evidence in order to get convictions.

The Brazilian Supreme Court has never handed down anything like a Miranda Decision.
So, here in Brazil, things are a bit different.
We don't have a lot of money to spend on crime scene technicians and forensic tools.
Nor are we obligated to use them.

As a result, our cops commonly strive to obtain convictions the old-fashioned way.
By relying heavily on confessions.

And they still practice what used to be called “the third degree”.
Just like American cops did before Miranda:

 A while ago, a lady took it upon herself to take exception to the way the Brazilian cops acted in one of my books. Here's what she wrote:

“I'll start by saying I am no expert on South American law enforcement. That said, after reading this book I have the distinct impression the author isn't either. Depictions of crime scene investigations are sparse if explained at all. In the era of shows like CSI and Law and Order, authors should be expected to at least pretend they did some research on police procedure and present a believable investigation.”

A bit of ethnocentrism here perhaps?
Listen, lady, I live here, and for me, everything in that book (Blood of the Wicked) is very believable.

Lesson: Don't shoot your mouth off until you know what you're talking about.
It tends to make you look stupid.

A footnote: The State of Arizona retried Miranda and managed to obtain a conviction without making use of his confession. He was sentenced to 20 years, but paroled in 1972. After his release, he got a job as a delivery driver and supplemented his income by selling autographed Miranda cards for US$ 1.50 each.

On the 31st of January, 1976, he was involved in a violent argument during a card game, received a knife wound and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. His assailant, a Mexican national, chose to exercise his right to remain silent after having been read his Miranda rights. He was released and fled to Mexico where he disappeared.

I wonder how Ernesto's ghost feels about that.

Leighton - Monday


Jaden Terrell said...

I knew part of the Miranda story, but not about the ironic ending. I suspect his ghost would not be too happy about how he helped his own killer go free.

Are you going to post more about police investigation in Brazil? I'd love to hear more about that.

Leighton Gage said...

Yes, Jaden, I intend to do some future posts on how criminal investigations in Brazil differ from those in the Anglo-Saxon world. Brazilian law is much closer to the French system than the British or American one, and that often makes a difference in the way the cops go after a conviction.