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Justice Department: Latest Miranda ruling 'wrongly decided'


Read about the background of the 1966 Miranda vs. Arizona decision

From Justice Department Producer Terry Frieden

February 17, 1999
Web posted at: 7:29 p.m. EST (0029 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department plans to notify prosecutors in five Mid-Atlantic states that an appeals court decision that threw the Supreme Court's historic Miranda ruling into question was "wrongly decided."

Justice Department officials, requesting anonymity, said Wednesday they will send guidance to their prosecutors asking them to "walk a fine line" by informing judges that while the Justice Department understands the controversial February 9 ruling is binding, it also believes the case was wrongly decided and expects it to be challenged.

Justice officials also released a memo written Friday advising U.S. attorneys throughout the country and Criminal Division executives in Washington that they "should not rely on" the law cited by the appeals court in its ruling.

Federal prosecutors in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina are, for now, bound by a 2-to-1 4th Circuit Court ruling that a little-known 1968 federal law effectively overrides the Supreme Court's 1966 Miranda ruling.

The 4th Circuit ruling came in the case of Charles Dickerson, who is charged with 18 bank robberies in three states. Dickerson confessed committing a bank robbery in Alexandria, Virginia, but was not read his Miranda rights. A lower court judge said the confession was inadmissible. The appeals panel overturned that ruling.

The Supreme Court's historic ruling in Miranda vs. Arizona declared that police must inform suspects that they have a right to an attorney, a right to remain silent, and that their statements may be used against them.

Voluntary confessions allowed

The recent opinion by the appeals panel, however, said prosecutors may use a suspect's voluntary confession, even if he or she had not been advised of those Miranda rights.

The court cited a 1968 law passed by Congress that was designed to essentially reverse Miranda. It allows the use of voluntary confessions where suspects were not read their rights.

That law, known in legal circles as "3501," has never been enforced by the Justice Department, which believes it is unconstitutional.

Justice Department officials refused to speculate on what course of action may be taken to challenge the ruling, but the issue is likely to ultimately end up at the Supreme Court.

Conservatives have long complained that the Miranda ruling is burdensome and allows criminals to go free on "technicalities."

Supporters argue the ruling has reduced forced confessions in violation of Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, and ensured proper standards by arresting officers.

New Miranda limits draw mixed legal reactions
February 11, 1999
Court limits Miranda ruling in five states
February 10, 1999
Federal appeals court challenges Miranda ruling
February 9, 1999

Miranda Rights: American Treasures of the Library of Congress
Miranda Rights
National Center for Policy Analysis
Evaluating Miranda
The Miranda Rights Page
What is the Miranda Warning?
U.S. Supreme Court Decision: Miranda vs. Arizona
Miranda Warnings: What's the Point?
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