The Miranda warning has been under attack by conservatives who charge that informing suspects of their rights makes it too hard to get convictions. Yesterday, the New York Times editorial page reports, the Supreme Court agreed to take a Missouri case that could scale back the effectiveness of Miranda warnings. At issue is a two-step form of questioning, which the Missouri Supreme Court called an “end run” around Miranda. The U.S. Supreme Court should hold that such interrogation violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, the New York Times maintains.
In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court held in 1966 that suspects must be warned that they have the right to remain silent and to get legal representation before the police can question them. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., held in 1999 that Miranda warnings were not constitutionally required. But the Supreme Court reversed that decision, reaffirming its commitment to Miranda.
The Missouri case the court took yesterday, however, would permit the Miranda holding to be narrowed. The case involves the interrogation of a woman suspected of arson. When she was arrested, an officer questioned her without giving her a Miranda warning. After she confessed, he turned on a tape recorder, told her of her right not to incriminate herself and referred to her previous incriminating statements. The police admitted that they used this two-step interrogation technique routinely in the hope of getting suspects to confess first without knowing their rights, and then confess a second time in a form that would be usable in court. The Missouri Supreme Court threw out the woman’s conviction.