Study Guide

Miranda v. Arizona Analysis

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  • Rhetoric


    You'd think that Supreme Court Justices don't have to use rhetoric in writing their decision. After all, they're not writing to persuade anyone; the decision's already signed, sealed, and delivered.

    You'd especially think the justices didn't have to use ethos as a rhetorical technique. They're the Supremes—they've already established their credibility and expertise. But they do it anyway, citing court cases to show the extent of their (or their clerks') knowledge and to lend credibility to their decisions.

    The Miranda v. Arizona text is all about rights and how people should be treated. The text also uses ethos to persuade because both the majority opinion (written by Earl Warren) and the dissents (by Harlan and White) include appeals to what is right and wrong. Both sides believe that they've got the moral high ground, that they're on the side of truth, justice, and the American way.


    At the same time, the text does include appeals to emotions. For example, there's Warren's warning about how allowing police misconduct would be "contagious"; Harlan's use of the grandiose Temple imagery and his "astonishment" at the court's decision; White's statement that "In some unknown number of cases, the Court's rule will return a killer, a rapist or other criminal to the streets and to the environment which produced him, to repeat his crime whenever it pleases him" (WhiteDissent.IV.9). These guys are pretty passionate about their opinions.

    It's All About the Logos

    Ultimately, the Opinion and Dissents appeal to logic and reason to convince. This is presumably what the justices have been doing during their deliberations: reviewing older cases to look for precedent; pointing out logical fallacies in each other's arguments; suggesting what a rational person might do or believe in a certain situation.

    Here's an example from White's dissent:

    In view of the statistics on recidivism in this country, and of the number of instances in which apprehension occurs only after repeated offenses, no one can sensibly claim that this aspect of the criminal law [taking criminals off the streets] does not prevent crime or contribute significantly to the personal security of the ordinary citizen.

    Secondly, the swift and sure apprehension of those who refuse to respect the personal security and dignity of their neighbor unquestionably has its impact on others who might be similarly tempted. That the criminal law is wholly or partly ineffective with a segment of the population or with many of those who have been apprehended and convicted is a very faulty basis for concluding that it is not effective with respect to the great bulk of our citizens, or for thinking that, without the criminal laws, or in the absence of their enforcement, there would be no increase in crime. Arguments of this nature are not borne out by any kind of reliable evidence that I have seen to this date. (WhiteDissent.IV.5)

    White seems to be saying, "Seriously guys, look at the evidence. Use your common sense."

    We all hope that appeals to reason are the primary way these folks present their arguments to the world in the written decision. We don't want to think that our emotions are being manipulated or that we have to accept an Opinion just because the writer is the Chief Justice or a smarty-pants. But we've seen how two justices can look at the same fact and come to wildly different conclusions, so there must be more to it than just rationality.

  • Structure

    Court Case

    Court cases aren't like speeches or novels—they're not exactly scintillating reading. They aren't written to be delivered to an audience and they don't make good beach reading. (Shmoop does love to bring along a good legal brief while in the Bahamas, but we're wonky like that.)

    Think of court cases as more like an official record. They're a description of the issue (or issues); an explanation of the court's decision; a whole lot of analysis, research, and historical reference; and then some opinions against the decision. The Chief Justice doesn't come out on the Supreme Court's front steps and read the whole thing to a crowd—the text just gets filed away for future reference or research, or to be studied by scholars like you.

    So what do court cases like Miranda v. Arizona look like?

    • They start with what's called a Syllabus. In the legal world of judges and juries, a Syllabus is an overview of the whole case. 
    • Then we've got the Opinion, usually written by the Chief Justice if in the majority. If the Chief is in the minority, then the most senior Associate Justice writes the Opinion. 
    • After the Opinion comes a few Dissents (opinions against the majority decision). If no one dissents, then there is no Dissent section, because, duh. Typically, there are between one and three dissent sections in a Supreme Court text. Few cases are decided unanimously.

    Supreme Court cases need to be thorough. Like, painfully thorough. Remember, they're establishing iron-clad precedent for future cases that the lower courts will decide, so the Justices have to be really clear about how they arrived at the decision and what, if any, dissenting opinions were raised.

    How it Breaks Down


    This is the overview of the whole text. It will usually tell you what the case is about, why it's a big deal, what the court decided, and what the new rule is.

    In Miranda v. Arizona, the Syllabus is pretty short and includes details on what Ernesto Miranda did, the fact that the Court is looking at this case in order to bring consistency to the rules of police questioning, and the new set of statements that will be called the Miranda Warning.


    Written by the Chief Justice Warren, this section explains in detail what the court decided, and why they made that decision. The Opinion usually builds a base of background knowledge through citing previous court cases; defends the court's decision with examples and explanations; and then very clearly sets out the new rule(s).

    In Miranda v. Arizona, the Opinion is the longest part of the text (it includes five subsections) and goes into detail about what happened to Miranda and what other court cases have said about similar issues. It lays out the new rules for police to follow (the Miranda Warning), and explains how these new rules will improve America's justice system.


    If any judges on the court voted against the majority decision, this is where they get to be heard. Each dissenting judge gets their own section (if they want it), where they can write to their heart's content about why they think they're right and the majority of the court is wrong. It's super important to note that nothing these dissenting judges say becomes law, or has any real effect on the new rules. It's kind of like the judge saying "let it be known that I did not agree with this."

    Harlan, White, and Clark all wrote dissents for Miranda v. Arizona (although Harlan's and White's are the main dissents; Clark's is rather short). In Miranda, the dissents mostly focus on the fact that the Miranda Warning actually helps people who might have just committed a crime. All these rights just get in the way of the police putting bad guys behind bars.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Unlike speeches and books, court cases don't have much wiggle room when it comes to titles. The title of a case is set by the judicial system, and it's always a "versus" title. As in, someone versus someone. Whoever's being taken to court (for example, being sued, or being tried for murder) comes second, and whoever was harmed (the person suing, or the family of the person who was injured) comes first. So in the case of Miranda v. Arizona (the "v." means "versus"), Ernesto Miranda is taking the state of Arizona to court (through his lawyer, of course).

    But wait, the whole state of Arizona? Was Miranda suing millions of people?

    Not quite. Basically it means that Miranda was challenging the Arizona law or justice system. You gotta love living in a nation where one individual can do that if they believe their constitutional rights were violated.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    No offense to Mr. Earl Warren, but the first sentence of Miranda v. Arizona doesn't exactly grab you.

    But, uh, it doesn't have to—we're not dealing with a speech or novel whose first lines need to capture everyone's attention. Remember, this is an official legal document.

    Warren's first few lines do exactly what they're supposed to, which is to get straight to the point and tell us what this case is all about. He gives the basic details of the issue involved (defendants in custody being questioned by police without any warning of Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights), and then goes right into the Supreme Court's decision on the case.

    It's like one big spoiler.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    "Should there be a retrial, I would leave the State free to attempt to prove these elements."

    Now that's how you write a dramatic ending. Shmoop can't stand the suspense.

    Court cases usually don't end with especially exciting lines, and they don't really need to. Just like with the opening lines, it's strictly business.

    But there is a punch-packing closing line in Miranda v. Arizona, and it's at the end of the Opinion, just not the whole text itself. This is worth checking out because—let's face it—the Opinion is the real meat of a Supreme Court case. It tells us the court's decision and all the new rules that come from that decision.

    Check out the closing line of the Opinion: "It is so ordered" (Opinion.V.18).

    Earl Warren is telling us that's that, and everyone better deal with it.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (7) Snow Line

    Court cases need to be thorough and specific, and they need to reference past cases and scientific research.

    Sounds like a barrel of laughs, right?

    Well, Miranda v. Arizona does all of these things. While legal jargon can tend to drag on, there are easily-catchable moments in this text that sum things up nicely. Earl Warren has some great one-liners about what ought to be (or ought not to be) true and right, and they're placed at just the right point to break up some of the heavier stuff.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Historical and Political References

    Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (throughout)
    Sixth Amendment to the Constitution (throughout)
    Escobedo v. Illinois (throughout)
    Cohens v. Virginia (Opinion.4)
    Brown v. Walker (Opinion.6, WhiteDissent.IV.2)
    Weems v. United States (Opinion.6)
    Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States (Opinion.8)
    People v. Portelli (Opinion.I.2)
    Chambers v. Florida (Opinion.I.9, Opinion.II.6, Opinion.IV.1, HarlanDissent.II.4)
    Blackburn v. Alabama (Opinion.I.10)
    Townsend v. Sain (Opinion.I.34)
    Lynumn v. Illinois (Opinion.I.34)
    Haynes v. Washington (Opinion.I.34, Opinion.II.19, Opinion.IV.5, Opinion.V.4, HarlanDissent.II.4, HarlanDissent.II.6, WhiteDissent.III.4, ClarkDissentIP.II.1. ClarkDissentIP.II.2)
    Boyd v. United States (Opinion.II.5, WhiteDissent.I.5)
    Counselman v. Hitchcock (Opinion.II.5, Opinion.II.7, WhiteDissent.I.5)
    United States v. Grunewald (Opinion.II.6)
    Murphy v. Waterfront Comm'n (Opinion.II.6, Opinion.II.17)
    Tehan v. Shott (Opinion.II.6)
    Malloy v. Hogan (Opinion.II.6, Opinion.II.17)
    Albertson v. SACB (Opinion.II.7)
    Hoffman v. United States (Opinion.II.7)
    Arndstein v. McCarthy (Opinion.II.7)
    Bram v. United States (Opinion.II.8, WhiteDissent.I.8)
    Wan v. United States (Opinion.II.12, Opinion.II.13, HarlanDissent.II.2, WhiteDissent.I.17)
    Westover v. United States (Opinion.II.14)
    McNabb v. United States (Opinion.II.16, WhiteDissent.I.17)
    Mallory v. United States (Opinion.II.16)
    Griffin v. California (Opinion.II.17, HarlanDissent.II.14)
    Mapp v. Ohio (Opinion.II.22, HarlanDissent.III.13, WhiteDissent.III.2)
    Pointer v. Texas (Opinion.II.22)
    Crooker v. California (Opinion.III.7, HarlanDissent.II.4, HarlanDissent.II.6, WhiteDissent.I.17, ClarkDissentIP.II.1)
    People v. Dorado (Opinion.III.10)
    Carnley v. Cochran (Opinion.III.10, Opinion.III.19)
    Gideon v. Wainwright (Opinion.III.14)
    Douglas v. California (Opinion.III.14)
    Johnson v. Zerbst (Opinion.III.18)
    Glasser v. United States (Opinion.III.21)
    Olmstead v. United States (Opinion.IV.3)
    Rogers v. Richmond (Opinion.IV.5)
    Malinski v. New York (Opinion.IV.5)
    Jackson v. U.S. (Opinion.IV.11)
    U.S. v. Konigsberg (Opinion.IV.14)
    Shultz v. U.S. (Opinion.IV.16)
    Hiram v. U.S. (Opinion.IV.16)
    Caldwell v. U.S. (Opinion.IV.17)
    Hopt v. Utah (Opinion.IV.23, HarlanDissent.II.2, WhiteDissent.I.12, WhiteDissent.IV.2, ClarkDissentIP.II.1)
    Haley v. Ohio (Opinion.V.4)
    Pierce v. United States (HarlanDissent.II.2)
    Brown v. Mississippi (HarlanDissent.II.3, WhiteDissent.I.8)
    Lyons v. Oklahoma (HarlanDissent.II.3)
    Ward v. Texas (HarlanDissent.II.3)
    Ashcraft v. Tennessee (HarlanDissent.II.3, HarlanDissent.III.4, WhiteDissent.III.4)
    Watts v. Indiana (HarlanDissent.II.3)
    Gallegos v. Colorado (HarlanDissent.II.3)
    Payne v. Arkansas (HarlanDissent.II.4)
    Reck v. Pate (HarlanDissent.II.4)
    Cicenia v. Lagay (HarlanDissent.II.4)
    Lynumn v. Illinois (HarlanDissent.II.4, WhiteDissent.III.4)
    Culombe v. Connecticut (HarlanDissent.II.5, HarlanDissent.II.7, WhiteDissent.I.19)
    Powers v. United States (HarlanDissent.II.6, WhiteDissent.I.8, WhiteDissent.I.17)
    Wilson v. United States (HarlanDissent.II.6, WhiteDissent.I.15)
    Malloy v. Hogan (HarlanDissent.II.7, WhiteDissent.I.8)
    Maryland v. Soper (HarlanDissent.II.14)
    Orloff v. Willoughby (HarlanDissent.II.14)
    Kaufman v. Hurwitz (HarlanDissent.II.14)
    United States v. Scully (HarlanDissent.II.15)
    Henry v. Mississippi (HarlanDissent.II.15)
    Johnson v. Zerbst (HarlanDissent.II.16, HarlanDissent.III.13)
    Gideon v. Wainwright (HarlanDissent.II.16, HarlanDissent.III.13, WhiteDissent.III.2)
    Douglas v. California (HarlanDissent.II.16)
    Carnley v. Cochran (HarlanDissent.II.16)
    Reg. v. Ramasamy (HarlanDissent.III.15)
    Anderson v. United States (HarlanDissent.IV.3)
    Douglas v. Jeannette (HarlanDissent.IV.4)
    Burdeau v. McDowell (WhiteDissent.I.8)
    Shotwell v. United States (WhiteDissent.I.8)
    United States v. Carignan (WhiteDissent.I.8, WhiteDissent.I.17)
    Stein v. New York (WhiteDissent.I.8)
    Regina v. Scott (WhiteDissent.I.8)
    Hansen v. United States (WhiteDissent.I.12)
    Pierce v. United States (WhiteDissent.I.14)
    United States v. Mitchell (WhiteDissent.I.17)
    Cicenia v. Lagay (WhiteDissent.I.19, 5.II.1)
    Lisenba v. California (WhiteDissent.III.4)
    Tot v. United States (WhiteDissent.III.5)
    United States v. Romano (WhiteDissent.III.5)
    Wilson v. United States (WhiteDissent.III.5)
    Lanzetta v. New Jersey (WhiteDissent.IV.3)
    Johnson v. State (WhiteDissent.IV.12)
    Brinegar v. United States (WhiteDissent.IV.13)
    People v. Modesto (WhiteDissent.IV.13)
    United States v. Drummond (WhiteDissent.IV.13)
    Gessner v. United States (WhiteDissent.IV.13)

    References to This Text

    Historical and Political References

    Dickerson v. United States
    Michigan v. Tucker
    Berghuis v. Thompkins

    Pop Culture References

    Jack Webb (Dragnet TV show, Adam-12 TV show)
    Hill Street Blues (TV show)
    Law & Order (TV show)
    NYPD Blue (TV show)

  • Trivia

    After being paroled, Ernesto Miranda made some quick cash autographing Miranda Warning cards and selling them for a cool $1.50 each. (Source)

    Over half of the arrests in the popular TV show Dragnet only included a partial Miranda Warning, or none at all. Someone thought to write an article about it. (Source)

    Ernesto Miranda actually pointed out the girl he had assaulted, in front of the cops, and said "that's the girl!" Um…might want to rethink that life choice. (Source)

    Thurgood Marshall (future first African American Supreme Court Justice) was the Solicitor General at the time, and he argued during Miranda v. Arizona that the government couldn't afford to hand out free lawyers for every single person who couldn't afford one. The Court said too bad. (Source)

    Miranda's first lawyer (Alvin Moore) deserves credit for pushing the courts to notice that Miranda was not given his rights. He was only paid $100 total for his services. This is why Public Defenders are saints. (Source)

    Since the Miranda decision, 80% of suspects in custody, having been told of their right to remain silent, still talk to the police. People just seem to want to tell their side of the story even if they're incriminating themselves. (Source)

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