Ernesto Miranda Trials: 1963 & 1967

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Ernesto Miranda Trials: 1963 & 1967

Defendant: Ernesto Miranda
Crimes Charged: Kidnapping and rape
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: Alvin Moore; second Trial: John Flynn
Chief Prosecutors: First trial: Laurence Turoff; second trial: Robert Corbin
Judges: First trial: Yale McFate; second trial: Lawrence K. Wren
Place: Phoenix, Arizona
Dates of Trials: June 20-27, 1963; February 15-March 1, 1967
Verdict: Guilty, both trials
Sentences: 20-30 years, both trials

SIGNIFICANCE: Few events have altered the course of American jurisprudence more than the 1963 rape conviction of Ernesto Miranda. The primary evidence against him was a confession he made while in police custody. How that confession was obtained exercised the conscience of a nation and prompted a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In the early hours of March 3, 1963, an 18-year-old Phoenix, Arizona, movie theater attendant was accosted by a stranger while on her way home from work. He dragged her into his car, drove out to the desert, and raped her. Afterwards he dropped the girl off near her home. The story she told police, often vague and contradictory, described her attacker as a bespectacled Mexican, late 20s, who was driving an early fifties car, either a Ford or Chevrolet.

By chance, one week later, the girl and her brother-in-law saw what she believed was the car, a 1953 Packard, license plate DFL-312. Records showed that this plate was actually registered to a late model Oldsmobile, but DFL-317 was a Packard, registered to a Twila N. Hoffman; and her boyfriend, Ernesto Miranda, 23, fit the attacker's description almost exactly.

Miranda had a long history of emotional instability and criminal behavior, including a one-year jail term for attempted rape. At police headquarters he was placed in a line-up with three other Mexicans of similar height and build, though none wore glasses. The victim did not positively identify Miranda but said that he bore the closest resemblance to her attacker. Detectives Carroll Cooley and Wilfred Young then took Miranda into an interrogation room. He was told, inaccurately, that he had been identified, and did he want to make a statement? Two hours later Miranda signed a written confession. There had been no blatant coercion or brutality, and included in the confession was a section stating that he understood his rights. When the detectives left interrogation room 2, they were pleased, not realizing the legal repercussions that would result from their efforts.

Tainted Evidence

As an indigent, Miranda was granted a court-appointed defender, Alvin Moore. Moore studied the evidence. The state had an apparently unassailable case, buttressed by Miranda's confession. And yet there was something about that confession that Moore found troubling. Convinced it had been obtained improperly, he intended to move for its inadmissibility.

Only four witnesses appeared for the prosecution: the victim, her sister, and Detectives Cooley and Young. After their testimony, Deputy County Attorney Laurence Turoff told the jury that the victim "did not enter into this act of intercourse with him [Miranda] willfully, but in fact she was forced to, by his own force and violence, directed against her."

Moore responded by highlighting inconsistencies in the victim's story. She claimed to have been a virgin prior to the attack, an assertion discounted by medical examiners, and could not remember the exact chronology of the night's events. Neither did she exhibit any bruising or abrasions after the attack; reason enough for Moore to thunder to the jury, "You have in this case a sorrowful case, but you don't have the facts to require that you send a man to prison for rape of a woman who should have resisted and resisted and resisted, until her resistance was at least overcome by the force and violence of the defendant" (an essential requirement under Arizona law at that time; anything less was regarded as compliance.)

But it wasn't until cross-examination of Carroll Cooley that Moore struck:

Question: Officer Cooley, in the taking of this statement, what did you say to the defendant to get him to make this statement?

Answer: I asked the defendant if he would write the same story that he just told me, and he said that he would.

Question: Did you warn him of his rights?

Answer: Yes, sir, at the heading of the statement is a paragraph typed out, and I read this paragraph to him out loud.

Question: I don't see in the statement that it says where he is entitled to the advice of an attorney before he made it.

Answer: No, sir.

Question: Is it not your practice to advise people you arrest that they are entitled to the services of an attorney before they make a statement?

Answer: No, sir.

This admission prompted Moore to object to the confession as evidence, but he was overruled by Judge Yale McFate, who favored the jury with a well-balanced and eminently fair account of the law as it stood at the time. In 1963, the constitutional right to silence was not thought to extend to the jailhouse.

Consequently, on June 27, 1963, Ernesto Miranda was convicted and sentenced to two concurrent terms of 20-30 years imprisonment.

But Alvin Moore's arguments about the confession had touched off a legal firestorm. Miranda's conviction was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 13, 1966, Chief Justice Earl Warren, speaking for a 5-4 majority, for the first time established unequivocal guidelines about what is and what is not permissible in the interrogation room:

Prior to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed

Conviction Overturned

With Miranda's conviction overturned, Arizona glumly faced the prospect of having to free its most celebrated prison inmate. Without the confession, the chances of winning a retrial were negligible. Ironically, it was Miranda himself who brought about his own downfall. Expecting to be released after retrial, he had begun a custody battle with his common-law wife, Twila Hoffman, over their daughter. Hoffman, angry and fearful, approached the authorities and revealed to them the content of a conversation she had had with Miranda after his arrest, in which he had is the rape.

This fresh evidence was all Arizona needed.

Miranda's second trial began February 15, 1967. Much of the case was argued in the judge's chambers. At issue: Could a common-law wife testify against her husband? Yes, said County Attorney Robert Corbin. Defense counsel John Flynn, who had pleaded Miranda's case before the Supreme Court, bitterly disagreed. After considerable legal wrangling, Judge Lawrence K. Wren ruled such evidence admissible, and Twila Hoffman was allowed to tell her story to the jury. It proved decisive. Miranda was again found guilty and sentenced to a 20-to-30-year jail term.

On January 31, 1976, four years after being paroled, Ernesto Miranda was stabbed to death in a Phoenix bar fight. The killer fled but his accomplice was caught. Before taking him to police headquarters, the arresting officers read the suspect his rights. In police vernacular, he had been "Mirandized."

The importance of this case cannot be overstated. Denounced by presidents from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan, the Miranda decision has withstood all attempts to overturn it. Framed originally to protect the indigent and the ignorant, the practice of "reading the defendant his rights" has become standard operating procedure in every police department in the country. The practice is seen so frequently in television police dramas that today the words of the so-called "Miranda Warning" are as familiar to most Americans as those of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Colin Evans

Suggestions for Further Reading

Baker, Liva. Miranda: Crime, Law and Politics. New York: Atheneum, 1983.

Graham, Fred P. The Se/f-Inflicted Wound. New York: Macmillan Co., 1970.

Skene, Neil. "The Miranda Ruling." Congressional Quarterly (June 6, 1991): 164.

Tucker, William. "The Long Road Back." National Review (October 18, 1985): 28-35.