Biden in the Middle; Fear and 2020; Miranda Rights
Good morning, it’s Thursday, June 13, 2019. On this day in 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a controversial 5-4 decision expanding the Fifth Amendment so that criminal defendants had to be represented by a lawyer and also be advised by arresting police officers of their right to remain silent. Failure to do this would result in a suspect's confession being inadmissible at trial.
The historic case considered by the Earl Warren-led court was called Miranda v. Arizona, and it would play a role in the election of Richard Nixon as president two years later. I’ll have more on the legacy of Miranda in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
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Biden’s Balancing Act Is Getting Much Tougher. Charles Lipson weighs in on the former vice president’s need to appease party activists without alienating swing voters.
Why the 2020 Election Is About Fear of the Future. Myra Adams dissects Pew Research Center data along with other unsettling findings.
CNN Focuses on Trump’s Health, But Says Biden’s Is Off-Limits. Kalev Leetaru cites numbers from the Television News Archive.
Dems Must Prioritize Welfare for Americans, Not Border Crossers. Cora Mandy applauds the president’s efforts to ensure benefits are directed to U.S. citizens ahead of illegal immigrants.
Out of the Layoff Ashes: Issues & Insights. Anneke E. Green spotlights the new journalism endeavor staffed by several members of the team that for years wrote editorials for Investor’s Business Daily.
In Praise of George Will’s “Conservative Sensibility.” RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny reviews the commentator-and-columnist’s new book.
To Shrink Government, Invest in a Smarter Congress. In RealClearPolicy, Zach Graves and Kevin Kosar hail a number of proposed reforms.
Meeting Counterterrorism Objectives in Afghanistan. In RealClearDefense, Francis X. Tailor lays out several strategic options available to U.S. policymakers.
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Born in Mesa, Arizona, Ernesto Miranda had been in trouble with the law since he was in the eighth grade. His rap sheet included three sex offenses. After being dishonorably discharged from the Army, where he spent a third of his time behind bars, Miranda drifted out to Los Angeles, met a woman named Twila Hoffman, moved back to the Phoenix area with her and seemed to have settled down. At least that’s what his lawyers initially believed: Miranda’s conviction was chosen as a test case by the ACLU, in part, because he was indigent, uneducated, and Mexican American.
In March of 1963, however, Miranda was arrested at home in the middle of the night by Phoenix police on suspicion of kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old mentally challenged girl. Although Ernesto fit the victim’s physical description of her attacker, she could not identify him in a lineup. But after being interrogated on little sleep for two hours without benefit of counsel, Miranda confessed to detectives. He was booked, tried, and sent to prison.
His conviction was appealed, and three years later the Warren Court expanded Fifth Amendment protections in a 5-4 decision. Earl Warren authored the majority opinion himself.
“The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of our concepts of American criminal jurisprudence,” wrote the chief justice. “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 -- the threshold requirement for an intelligent decision as to its exercise. More important, such a warning is an absolute prerequisite in overcoming the inherent pressures of the interrogation atmosphere.”
The opinion went on to say that suspects must be apprised of their right to an attorney and that, complying with earlier decisions of the Warren Court, if a suspect could not afford a lawyer, one would be appointed for him.
To Richard Nixon, such decisions were partly to blame for a violent crime rate that burgeoned out of control in the 1960s. Their “cumulative effect,” he said while launching his 1968 presidential campaign, “has been to very nearly rule out the confession as an effective and major tool in prosecution and law enforcement.”
Most cops felt the same way; so did a majority of the voters, who elected Nixon president. To the “Silent Majority,” Ernesto Miranda was nothing but a predator, and the Phoenix police officers who took him off the streets were heroes. In hindsight, who was right?
First of all, let’s stipulate that Nixon wasn’t exaggerating the violent crime explosion in this country -- and that Ernesto Miranda was not a sympathetic defendant. He was a rapist and a thief and a liar, and at his retrial he was convicted again, this time on the strength of his common-law wife’s testimony. (While incarcerated, the hapless prisoner had confessed to Twila while instructing her to convey a message to the victim: He would marry her if she’d decline to testify against him. Not surprisingly, Twila instead relayed this information to prosecutors.)
Paroled from prison, Miranda was knifed in a Phoenix skid-row bar during a 1976 card game. He died on his way to the hospital. Although he wasn’t mourned by anyone, one of the suspects, a Mexican national, was apprehended -- and promptly advised of his “Miranda” rights.
And that’s the larger point. Law enforcement learned to live with Miranda -- and to perform its job more fairly and effectively. As far as Americans learning to accept controversial Supreme Court decisions, well, that it still a work in progress.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics