Study Guide

Miranda v. Arizona Quotes

By Supreme Court of the United States

  • Interpretation of Law

    The constitutional issue we decide […] is the admissibility of statements obtained from a defendant questioned while in custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way. (Opinion.I.1)

    This is the core question Miranda v. Arizona was trying to answer. Does the right of non-self-incrimination apply in a situation where a suspect is in custody and can't leave? Up to this point, the right was acknowledged in court, but not during police questioning.

    At the outset, if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent. For those unaware of the privilege, the warning is needed simply to make them aware of it […]. It is not just the subnormal or woefully ignorant who succumb to an interrogator's imprecations […]. (Opinion.III.3)

    The main point here is that, informed or not, you don't have to be a total idiot to cave under pressure.

    The defendant who does not ask for counsel is the very defendant who most needs counsel. (Opinion.III.10)

    Warren is making a pretty sophisticated psychological statement here. If you don't know your right to an attorney, you're probably the kind of person who doesn't know your other rights as well. You're more vulnerable than the next guy in some way. You need the protection of the law even more. Pretty compassionate, we think.

    I believe the decision of the Court represents poor constitutional law and entails harmful consequences for the country at large. (HarlanDissent.I.2)

    By saying "the country at large" Harlan emphasizes that this new ruling affects everybody, not just people in custody. He thinks that it's a danger to society not to give the police reasonable power to interrogate a suspect. Criminals will go free and there will be chaos in the streets. Harlan is asking for a little compassion for future potential victims of the bad guys.

    This Court is forever adding new stories to the temples of constitutional law, and the temples have a way of collapsing when one story too many is added. (HarlanDissent.IV.5)

    Harlan's never at a loss for metaphor. He clearly thinks this ruling is an unnecessary addition to rights that currently exist and are working just fine.

  • Law and Order

    We granted certiorari in these cases […] to give concrete constitutional guidelines for law enforcement agencies and courts to follow. (Opinion.3)

    Certiorari is fancy legal jargon used by the Supreme Court to mean "Okay. We'll take your case." Read those last few words—evidently there was some confusion about the issue of Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights that the Court wanted to clarify. The idea was to have all police departments operating under the same principles.

    It is not admissible to do a great right by doing a little wrong…It is not sufficient to do justice by obtaining a proper result by irregular or improper means. (Opinion.I.5)

    Rules apply to both the regular folks and the police. If the police break the rules in order to help keep order…where do we draw the line? Think about the word choices with "irregular" and "improper." It's hard to know exactly what those terms mean, and that's what the Opinion and Dissent sections really get into.

    We have concluded that, without proper safeguards, the process of in-custody interrogation of persons suspected or accused of crime contains inherently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual's will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely. (Opinion.III.1)

    Pressure to talk doesn't have to be physical (like being hit). It can be mental (feeling scared, alone, out of options, being too young to really understand what's happening). We think it's pretty insightful that the Court recognized these kinds of psychological pressures, and instituted rules that took them into account. Warren's suggesting that, even though there are rules in place to protect suspects (Fifth and Sixth Amendments), it's too easy to break them.

    At the outset, if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent. For those unaware of the privilege, the warning is needed simply to make them aware of it […]. It is not just the subnormal or woefully ignorant who succumb to an interrogator's imprecations […] (Opinion.III.3)

    "Imprecation" means cursing or insult. Warren's saying that everyone can be vulnerable to being beaten down by that kind of treatment. You don't have to be an idiot to be a little unclear about your rights in those circumstances.

    Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. (Opinion.IV.2)

    The Court thinks it's a recipe for chaos if people see the government as operating outside the law. What's the point of being a good citizen if you can't count on the police to treat you fairly? If your mom didn't stop at red lights, would she have any credibility when she told you not to do it?

  • Police Misconduct

    […] the police brutally beat, kicked, and placed lighted cigarette butts on the back of a potential witness under interrogation for the purpose of securing a statement incriminating a third party. (Opinion.I.2)

    You have to admit that this is an abuse of police power. But what if the suspect turns out to be a criminal who did far worse to someone else? Does the end justify the means?

    The subject should be deprived of every psychological advantage […]. In his own office, the investigator possesses all the advantages. The atmosphere suggests the invincibility of the forces of the law. (Opinion.I.13)

    The Court is reading from an official police manual here. Does it look like the police are encouraging respect for the rights of those suspects? Like Warren said, they don't seem to have the best interests of the suspect in mind.

    We have concluded that, without proper safeguards, the process of in-custody interrogation of persons suspected or accused of crime contains inherently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual's will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely. (Opinion.III.1)

    Warren recognizes that just being in an interrogation room puts pressure on you. Some people might be so desperate to get out that they'll say anything, true or not, even without the police asking leading questions.

    With a lawyer present, the likelihood that the police will practice coercion is reduced, and, if coercion is nevertheless exercised, the lawyer can testify to it in court. (Opinion.III.7)

    Having your attorney with you gives you a little more power, because the police are less likely to do something that violates your rights when your lawyer's watching. The Miranda rule balances the scales a little bit.

    The rule announced today will measurably weaken the ability of the criminal law to perform these tasks. (WhiteDissent.IV.7)

    Justice White thinks the balance of power is tipped a little too far by the new ruling. It handcuffs law enforcement instead of the criminals. Warren's Opinion focused on the loss of power a suspect feels while in custody, while the Dissents were more concerned with the police's power.

  • Morality and Ethics

    […] the police brutally beat, kicked, and placed lighted cigarette butts on the back of a potential witness under interrogation for the purpose of securing a statement incriminating a third party. (Opinion.I.2)

    Were they really torturing someone who wasn't even the suspect—just someone they thought could ID the real perp? Where's the moral high ground in that?

    It is not admissible to do a great right by doing a little wrong…It is not sufficient to do justice by obtaining a proper result by irregular or improper means. (Opinion.I.5).

    A classic statement about the end not justifying the means. The moral and ethical thing to do is to follow the rules at all costs, otherwise we risk corrupting the justice system that exists to protect us. The greater good is in reinforcing our Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, because it protects everyone, not just criminals.

    In the cases before us today […] we concern ourselves primarily with this interrogation atmosphere and the evils it can bring. (Opinion.I.36)

    By saying "evils" instead of say, "dangers" or "problems," they're appealing to our sense of good and bad, right and wrong; Warren is making the decision a moral issue in addition to a legal one.

    The financial ability of the individual has no relationship to the scope of the rights involved here. The privilege against self-incrimination secured by the Constitution applies to all individuals. (Opinion.III.14)

    Is it right to let some people have more protections than others just because they have more money? During deliberations, Justice Hugo Black had said, "He [an indigent defendant] is certainly not going to get treated like a man that has the money to get a lawyer," (source). That's a major moral judgment right there. Miranda levels the ethical playing field.

    […] the Court is taking a real risk with society's welfare in imposing its new regime on the country. The social costs of crime are too great to call the new rules anything but a hazardous experimentation. (HarlanDissent.III.6)

    Observant Shmoopers will notice that the dissenting judges love to use colorful language to help make their points. Harlan calls the Miranda Warning a "new regime" as though the government is acting very authoritarian in this decision (is he right?). Harlan sees a serious ethical problem with exposing the people to criminals who might otherwise have been in jail. He's got a very different idea from the majority opinion about what's really the "greater good."

  • The Constitution: Living or Dead?

    The prosecution may not use statements […] stemming from questioning […] unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination. (Syllabus.2)

    This whole case revolves around the Fifth Amendment. The question becomes: how far does this "privilege against self-incrimination" go? And at what cost?

    Rights declared in words might be lost in reality. (Opinion.6)

    So true.

    At the outset, if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent. For those unaware of the privilege, the warning is needed simply to make them aware of it. (Opinion.III.3)

    Warren makes sure to say that the court isn't really manufacturing any new rights in this decision. The rights already existed, but the Court realized that people in custody might be too young or intimidated or rattled or drunk to really understand those rights.

    With a lawyer present, the likelihood that the police will practice coercion is reduced, and, if coercion is nevertheless exercised, the lawyer can testify to it in court. (Opinion.III.7)

    It's amazing to realize how obvious this right sounds to many Americans, yet how foreign it may be in lots of other countries.

    Society has always paid a stiff price for law and order […]. (HarlanDissent.1.III.7)

    This is the classic debate between having rights and having safety. Do you agree that, to allow the police to do their job effectively we must give up some rights? White thinks this is just a basic fact of life, so get over it. This is like the argument about the government allowing surveillance of American citizens' phone calls and emails because of national security concerns. Is is worth giving up some civil liberties in exchange for being safe? Paging Edward Snowden