Miranda revisited

Supreme Court: 1966 ruling has its roots in constitutional principals that haven't changed.

April 26, 2000

MIRANDA is not broken.

For 34 years, the familiar police warnings have safeguarded constitutional rights, ensuring that people charged with crimes are accorded due process. Suspects cannot surrender their rights because of ignorance or coercion. These rules are clear and constitutional.

So in deciding whether a 1968 federal law blunts the 1966 Miranda ruling, the Supreme Court should be clear: Miranda's principals must be upheld.

The Miranda rule is rooted in the Fifth Amendment, protecting arrested persons of their right against self-incrimination and the right to be represented. It gives police departments clear guidance when dealing with the rights of the accused. Before the decision, courts decided on a case-by-case basis whether confessions were valid. The court found that system unworkable.

Police officers have learned to accept and operate with these clear, unambiguous rules.

Congress was making light of Miranda's constitutional grounding when it passed the 1968 statute that said confessions could be used against suspects even if they hadn't been informed of their rights. The court should not stand for it.

The justices offered few clues as to whether they will keep Miranda in place when the federal act and the 1968 ruling collided in oral arguments last week. Although this court is much more conservative than the Warren Court that decided Miranda, it should respect the constitutionality of the earlier decision and protect due process.

Laws governing police must be workable and constitutional. Miranda helps make this happen now as it did 34 years ago.

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