BU Law invites scholars from across the country to examine the legacy of the landmark Miranda v. Arizona Supreme Court case.
We’ve all seen it in detective movies and TV police procedurals—the Miranda warning—usually rattled off while a police officer neatly packs a suspect into his or her cruiser. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Miranda v. Arizona, landmark US Supreme Court case that established that warning.
This fall, Boston University School of Law gathered legal scholars from across the country to reflect on the complexity and controversy of the ruling. The Miranda v. Arizona conference was organized by BU Law Professor and Joseph Lipsitt Faculty Research Scholar Tracey Maclin, a noted scholar of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
Decided in 1966, the Miranda case consolidated four cases related to police custodial interrogation. In each case, questions arose over whether the defendants’ constitutional protections against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment were violated while they were interrogated in police custody. Miranda ruled that because police had not given the suspects information regarding their rights, the confessions they obtained were inadmissible in their criminal trials. The ruling established the familiar warning, with an addendum that rarely makes it to the screen: police must ensure that suspects understand these rights, and suspects must agree to waive them before interrogation can begin.
While the warning seems commonplace today, it was controversial in its time. Law enforcement agencies predicted the ruling would restrict police interrogation tactics and have a negative effect on confession rates, which would lead to fewer criminals being brought to trial.
Paul Cassell, Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law and University Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Utah College of Law, delivered the opening keynote, asking, “at the end of the day, does [Miranda] strike a fair balance between the need to get a confession while still protecting [suspects] from abusive police practices?” To answer this question, Cassell examined empirical evidence of the ruling’s effect on law enforcement. He argued the decline in crime clearance rates, the only nationally available data on police effectiveness, was proof of Miranda‘s negative impact on law enforcement.
Other presentations considered, among many topics, the assumptions that underlie the ruling, the relationship between Miranda and the right to counsel offered by the Sixth Amendment, the decision’s role in national security cases, and a proposal to create an application might improve the process of giving the Miranda warning by removing the potentially coercive human element.
In his presentation, David Rossman, director of BU Law’s Criminal Law Clinical Programs, noted that often police officers who become detectives are “master salespeople,” capable of selling a suspect something that is not in their own best interest. He argued that manipulative police interrogation tactics, along with subsequent court decisions, have “largely gutted [Miranda], so it is no longer a bulwark against the coercive pressure of custodial police interrogation.”
Yale Kamisar, the Clarence Darrow Distinguished University Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Michigan Law School, closed the conference with a discussion of the merits of the ruling as well as its failings since the warning was established. “It’s become increasingly clear that some system for recording how the rights are delivered is needed,” he said, arguing that the Miranda warning is insufficient to counteract sophisticated interrogators. “Suspects won’t always understand that they have a right to not incriminate themselves,” he said, “and/or the suspect doesn’t realize that he is in effect being compelled to incriminate himself. Shouldn’t somebody tell the suspect something?”
In her remarks, Dean Maureen O’Rourke emphasized the importance of events like the Miranda v. Arizona conference, which allows scholars to explore a topic from every side in an environment in which everyone is free to join the conversation.
Papers presented at this conference will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Boston University Law Review.