The bills of rights normally acts as the main source of citizen’s rights, and are captured in the constitution, as the first ten amendments. These amendments usually safeguard the American people from being taken advantage of by their government. Specifically, four bills usually provide guidance and procedures that apply to citizens who have been accused of crime, are defendants in criminal cases, as well as inmates in prisons or jails. These bills include: the Fourth amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the Sixth amendment and the Eighth amendment. The Fourth amendment protects defendants from being subjected to unreasonable searches or the findings of such searches being seized. The Fifth Amendment not only provides the defendant with the privilege against self incrimination, but it also promises the “due process of law and ensures safe guards against double jeopardy (the government trying a defendant twice for the same offence). The Sixth Amendment outlines the basic conditions that must be met before criminal trials proceed; amongst them being the right of the defendant to counsel. Finally, the Eighth Amendment focuses on inmates and their welfare by forbidding the government from subjecting them to unusual and cruel punishments (Hall, 1960). These protections also include protections against state or local governments. Failures by government or state organs to follow these set procedures usually results in suppression of statements made by the defendant or evidence arising from such statements. As such, these four amendments have significantly influenced criminal justice over the years, governing not just law enforcement, but also profoundly determining the course of a number of criminal trials over the years.
In particular, the Miranda warning, based on both the Fifth and the Sixth Amendments and named based on the outcome of the famous Miranda versus Arizona trial (384 U.S), has taken centre stage in a number of trials, with the failure to follow the required procedures being responsible for the suppression of evidence on numerous occasions. The Fifth Amendment specifies that the defendant is privileged from self incrimination and must be subjected to due process, part of which overlap into the provisions of the Sixth amendment, on requirements that must be met before a trial can proceed. The Miranda warning forms part of the substantive due process which requires that police officers make defendants aware of their rights regarding statements they may make and their usability. Further, the warning must also include information regarding the defendant’s right to an attorney and an affirmative response indicating that they understand. The warning, therefore, offers a clear outline of the basis of interaction between law enforcement and the defendant. Overall, the warning requires that a defendant must intelligently, voluntarily and knowingly waive the rights provided within these amendments, especially the Fifth Amendment, in order for the government to be able to use statements the defendant makes, as evidence. Based on the precedent set by the Supreme court in whereby it ruled that a admitting a statement elicited from the suspect without having informed them of their Fifth Amendment rights, amounted to violation of the defendant’s Fifth Amendment right (Ernesto Arturo Miranda in this case). Furthermore, the court also found that it went against the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to consult counsel and to have counsel present before speaking to law enforcement officers (Fletcher, 2000).
Other subsequent prominent cases in which the question of Miranda rights and violations of the Fifth and Sixth amendments have taken centre stage include: United States v. Patane, in which even though physical evidence (a gun) obtained through an un-Mirandized statement was initially suppressed, it was subsequently allowed by the Court of Appeals. In a different case, Pennyslvania vs. Muniz, the court convicted the defendant even though the incriminating statements and evidence were obtained during a field sobriety test without the administration of the Miranda warning. The courts held that the un-Mirandized statements were actually unsolicited, making them admissible. In a totally different dimension to the case the courts found that the defendants confessions were inadmissible simply because the defendant had confessed under the belief that his attorney was present while that was not the case (Kanovitz, J. & Kanovitz M., 2008).
Personally, I do agree with how the right has been implemented so far, as it not only safeguards the rights of the defendant, but it also encourages professionalism and an adherence to the law. Although at times the loopholes provided by the need for and application of the Miranda warning are exploited by defendants, its existence ensures adherence to due process, which ensures that there is no miscarriage of justice (Williams, 1983). On the other hand, the Miranda warning is a simple manifestation of the different interpretations that can result from the same laws, as different circumstances call for different interpretations and application of the Fifth Amendment. For instance in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, the court upheld that his rights had been violated, while in the cases of Muniz and Patane, the courts failed to uphold such rulings. This indicates that despite the existence of such laws safeguarding the rights of defendants, when the due process is followed, justice often prevails (Gross, 2005).
Fletcher, G. (2000). Rethinking Criminal Law. Oxford University Press.
Gross, H. (2005, reissue). A Theory of Criminal Justice. Oxford University Press
Hall, J. (1960). General Principles of Criminal Law. Lexis Law Pub.
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)
Kanovitz, J. R. and Kanovitz, M. I. (2008). Constitutional Law (11th ed.). Matthew Bender and Company, Inc. Newark, NJ. 694-697
Pennsylvania v. Muniz, 496 U.S. 582 (1990)
Williams, G. (1983). Textbook of Criminal Law. Stevens & Sons.