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Editorial: Congress should play savior to stricken Miranda rights

Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 2, 1999
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A judicial decision this year has edged the Miranda warning's place in our criminal process from its once-secure perch, leaving the protection teetering at an impasse that the legislative branch must break.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals this February ruled that Miranda warnings are not required. The court maintained that Miranda warnings are not a constitutional right, but a legislative prerogative. The court pointed to a passage in the decision for the landmark case Miranda v. Arizona, where the U.S. Supreme Court disclaimed any intent to create a "constitutional straitjacket," and instead invited Congress and the states "to develop their own safeguards for [protecting] the privilege."

This ruling is ominous in light of a long-overlooked 1968 law passed by Congress that allows voluntary confessions to be used even if Miranda warnings are not given. This effectively nullifies the value of having Miranda rights in the first place. This law was also sustained by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which noted that courts before have held that Congress has the power to overrule judicially created rules of evidence and procedure that are not required by the Constitution. Miranda warnings are a procedural requirement, and so, it is argued, go beyond the requirements of the fifth amendment. Nowhere in the fifth amendment does it say that a suspect must be read his rights, it just says he has them.

University of Utah Law School Professor Paul Cassell, who successfully argued this position to the Fourth Circuit, spoke to the UA College of Law last week defending this position. He claimed there was an immediate drop in convictions for violent crimes after Miranda was handed down, claiming Miranda warnings prevented many criminals from being convicted. He suggested that instead of Miranda warnings, a better way of controlling police abuses would be to videotape police interrogations, so it could truthfully be determined whether or not the suspect really was confessing voluntarily.

This is not a wholly apt assessment. Although videotaping confessions is a good idea, Miranda warnings are also needed. Even police have largely embraced this procedural requisite as laid down originally in Miranda, because they have a concrete rule to follow.

Any costs to the taxpayers are marginal, and it only takes about 15 seconds by the police to read them to a suspect. Furthermore, a large percentage of the population is unaware of their rights or don't understand them when it comes to dealing with the police. Without Miranda warnings, police arrests result in the lopsided effect of allowing the educated to escape possible incrimination while those who are unaware of their rights are disproportionately convicted.

Thus, Congress and the state legislatures must take the prompts from the judicial decisions, repeal the 1968 law and pass a new one in its place requiring Miranda warnings and overturning the Fourth Circuit Court's decision.