Miranda v. Arizona

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13559

In 1966, the Supreme Court established the principle that police officers must read people their rights before interrogating them, and only after that can their words be used against them. Why?


United States, United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Image spending two hours under intense interrogation by the police.

  • Do you think you could be coerced into admitting something?


The 14th Amendment

gavel and 14th amendment

The 14th Amendment states:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The passing of the 14th Amendment in the late 19th century, gave the Supreme Court the ability to expand upon the jurisdiction of the Bill of Rights, which gives rights and privileges at the federal level.

  • What does that entail?

Let's look at this in terms of the 5th Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury...

In this excerpt from the 5th Amendment, the Bill of Rights guarantees every person the ability not to answer questions until they are indicted by a jury. This is what people mean when they "plead the 5th." People cannot be forced to incriminate themselves.

Because of this amendment, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) always informed people of their right to remain silent if they wished and their right to have a lawyer present if they wished. The FBI is a federal agency.

Ernesto Miranda

hands in cuffs

In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was interrogated for two hours after being accused of kidnapping a woman. During the intense interrogation, he admitted to having committed the crime and then signed a confession.

On this document, it was stated that he recognized his right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present. However, he was only informed of these rights after the interrogation ended.

At trial, his lawyer asserted that this confession was inadmissible -- meaning it could not be included in the trial -- because it was acquired only after Miranda was unfairly coerced into confessing. If he had been aware of his rights, he would not have been driven to the confession.

The judge did not side with Miranda and his lawyer, and he permitted the confession to be allowed as evidence. Miranda was subsequently sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison.


supreme court

Miranda's lawyer did not accept this decision as fair and appealed the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court. However, the state court upheld the ruling because it was not within the state's laws that suspects had to be told what their rights were.

Miranda's lawyer appealed this case again to the U.S. Supreme Court, who would not be so quick to dispel it.

Chief Justice Earl Warren viewed the Constitution as a living document. This means he believed it was important to look beyond the specific wording of the Constitution and interpret the document in new or more expansive ways.

Referring back to the 14th Amendment, anything found to obstruct due process was considered unconstitutional.

  • Was the state of Arizona depriving Ernesto Miranda "of life, liberty, or property, without due process"?

Justice Warren

Image by Harris & Ewing, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

In a 5-4 decision, Earl Warren and four other justices overturned the decision of the two lower courts and asserted Miranda's liberty was being deprived without due process.

  • How did they come to this conclusion?

The full text of the 14th Amendment indicates that no state could create a law that limited the federal laws of the United States. It was already the practice of the FBI to read suspects their rights before interrogation in compliance with the 5th Amendment.


After the Supreme Court decided this case, it gave explicit instructions to all law enforcement. Nothing said before reading suspects their rights could be admissible in court.

This resulted in the creation of Miranda cards, which listed the rights that must be read to suspects upon arrest. These cards were handed out to every police officer in every force in every city across the country.

slamming gavel

This court case is unique because Warren's active reading of the Constitution effectively created a brand new law.

The four judges who opposed the decision asserted that this ruling would make the work of police officers harder. When people did not know they could remain silent and have a lawyer, it was often much simpler and quicker to get a confession out of suspects.

After this ruling, Ernesto Miranda had a new trial wherein his confession could not be used. He still was convicted and sent back to prison; however, the evidence was based on witnesses and factors outside the unethical interrogation.

Keep going in the Got It? section to fully understand how the U.S. Constitution was interpreted in this court case.

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