Miranda rights run risk of being lost

    It’s a tiny little phrase that has a huge significance in the world of penal law. It has been repeated over and over, heard on pretty much every cop show on television. “”You have the right to remain silent”” — it may be an indication that you’re in some serious trouble, but it is also a sign that you have rights, and that no matter how bleak the situation may be, there are certain inalienable privileges that still pertain to you.

    The Miranda warnings are quite simple and consist of a four-part provision of privilege. They are as follows: “”You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present before any questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning.”” These rights must be read to every individual as he or she is being arrested; if they are omitted or changed, then any testimony or evidence obtained will be negated. These basic privileges were guaranteed in one of the Supreme Court’s most important rulings, the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona.

    Those privileges may be at risk. The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear a case of whether evidence obtained at a crime scene can be used without the full Miranda Act warnings. Although the Miranda warnings will not by any means be eliminated as a result of the Supreme Court hearing the case, it is possible that they will develop a test that could determine when those warnings could be ignored, a dark implication for those valuing individual freedom above all else.

    The upcoming case involves Samuel Patane, a Colorado man arrested in 2001 for allegedly violating a restraining order. Authorities claim Patane interrupted them while his rights were being read. After further questioning and a search of his home, federal agents found an illegal handgun.

    A federal appeals court ruled that the pistol could not be used against Patane at trial. The lower court determined that police were only able to find the gun because they questioned Patane, and the questioning was done without Miranda warnings. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that the Supreme Court had brought on the question with its ruling in 2000 that reaffirmed the Miranda Act.

    The court has issued numerous, often seemingly contradictory rulings over the years on the application and scope arising from the Miranda ruling. As recently as a 2000 case, justices upheld the Miranda principle. But other rulings in the past decade have allowed police searches stemming from similar circumstances as the Patane case.

    The Bush administration has appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that Patane volunteered information after refusing Miranda warnings to keep silent, thereby negating the protections promised by the Miranda Act. This is one incident in a long line of acts seeming to favor the right of the government to prosecute over the right of the individual to defend him or herself. Such an argument clearly overlooks the importance of individual rights and freedoms.

    A founding principle of the United States is the catchphrase “”innocent until proven guilty.”” The proof of burden is ultimately on the prosecutor and not the defense to reach a veritable conclusion. In keeping with this basic but beautiful concept, it is inherently important to protect the rights of individuals at every level of the socio-economic stratosphere. And it is inherently important to assure every individual that he or she is not without certain legal protections even when he or she is being arrested.

    Reading the Miranda warnings goes beyond the provision of legal representation and the defendant’s best interests as an alleged offender. It serves as an equalizer before the law, ensuring that irrespective of class or situation, certain rights are still available to anyone and everyone who stands accused of a crime.

    It must indeed be frustrating to be an investigator who has apprehended a criminal and gathered hard evidence of guilt, only to be forced to allow that criminal to go free because of a point in penal law. But it must be so much more devastating to be stripped of your most basic legal rights at a moment when the right to remain silent may be all you have.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal