Miranda rights should stay in place

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2000

The following editorial appeared in today's edition of The Miami Herald:

The amazing thing about the Supreme Court review of the landmark Miranda rule is that the court is doing it at all. Truly amazing.

Here's a legal rule that virtually every person in the country over the age of 10 who has watched a detective show on television can recite verbatim: ``You have a right to remain silent. Anything you say can be held against you . . . '' and so forth.

The Miranda law is so thoroughly embedded in the American psyche - and law - that in its 34-year existence it has been accepted universally as a bedrock standard. The justices didn't foreshadow their ruling during this week's oral arguments, but they should do no less than spike this cockeyed notion that Miranda isn't constitutionally grounded.

When adopted in 1966, the courts drew on an interpretation of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. The principle has been codified into such plain language that only a dolt could mistake its intent: In the coercive atmosphere of a police interrogation, a person in custody is entitled to a lawyer and mustn't be forced to speak against his own interests.

But there's mischief afoot in the land. Political mischief.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld the conviction of a man charged with bank robbery who voluntarily offered a confession before he had been advised of his Miranda rights. The court relied on an interpretation of a 1968 law passed by a politically motivated, mischief-minded Congress, that was designed to undermine Miranda.

But the '68 law never gained broad legal support - as did Miranda - and for the most part has been ignored. Until Richmond. The question before the Supreme Court is to determine whether Miranda is, indeed, based on constitutional intent and therefore not changeable by congressional fiat.

By their vigorous debate and sharp questioning of lawyers presenting the case, the justices show that they think the issue worthy of resolution. We agree. The high court could do the country a service by asserting Miranda's clear constitutional basis.

Miranda is a law that isn't broken and doesn't need fixing. Although police and law enforcement agencies aggressively opposed its adoption in the '60s, the law has proven its usefulness as a small protection against excessive police zeal. And contrary to predictions, most suspects actually do voluntarily confess - proof enough that Miranda works.

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