Silence is golden

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Last week marked the 50th anniversary of what is perhaps one of the two or three most famous Supreme Court cases. On June 13, 1966, the Court handed down the decision in Miranda v. Arizona. That case altered police procedure and the portrayal of police in movies and television, and placed in the American vernacular the memorable phrase that begins with, “You have the right to remain silent….”

That phrase, which is now required to be read to criminal suspects who have been subjected to a custodial arrest, seems at once unremarkable. The Fifth Amendment, which provides that right, has been part of the U.S. Constitution since the Bill of Rights was added to the document on December 15, 1791.

What is remarkable is that many are outraged at the case that produced the notion that someone accused of a crime should be informed of the Constitutional rights that are supposed to govern the suspect/police interaction.

The decision was widely condemned, although it is difficult to understand how requiring the police to inform suspects of longstanding constitutional rights would be so controversial. If nothing else, it laid bare the claim that the police are engaged in a search for the truth and justice and instead are often looking for the first suspect from whom they can force a confession.

Given the vast prosecutorial power of the state and the potential for depriving an individual of their life and or liberty, it does not seem too much to ask that the police comply with basic elements of our constitutional scheme. In the cases that most irritate Miranda’s critics, it is almost always reckless or incompetent behavior by the police that leads to a statement being suppressed.

The Constitution certainly deserves, at a minimum, the respect of those who are sworn to uphold it and that respect should be demonstrated by their learning how to follow it.

Source:, “In court and culture, ‘Miranda’ endures,” Alan L. Yatvin, June 13, 2016

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