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Supreme Court reaffirms that police must warn criminal suspects of Miranda rights


June 26, 2000
Web posted at: 10:44 a.m. EST (1444 GMT)

In this story:

Central question in Dickerson case

Controversial lower court ruling


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court on Monday issued one of its most important criminal law rulings in decades by upholding a 34-year-old decision requiring the police to inform people being arrested of their Miranda rights.

In a 7-2 vote, the nation's highest court refused to discard its 1966 Miranda decision and replace it with a less-stringent federal law that allows voluntary confessions even when police fail to give the warnings.

VideoSenior Washington Correspondent Charles Bierbauer looks at the Supreme Court's decision against the voluntary-confession exception to the Miranda rights.
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U.S. v. Dickerson 99-5525

Miranda v. Arizona
View Chief Justice Earl Warren's handwritten notes concerning the Miranda decision

View portion of memorandum from Justice William E. Brennan Jr. about Miranda decision
In-depth look at Miranda rights
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"We ... hold that Miranda and its progeny in this court govern the admissibility of statements made during custodial interrogation in both state and federal courts," Chief Justice William Rehnquist said for the majority.

The ruling was a major victory for the Clinton administration and civil libertarians, which said the Miranda decision prevents police coercion and misconduct once suspects have been taken into custody for questioning.

The reading of the Miranda rights is well known to anyone who has been arrested or who watches television cop shows or movies.

While making the arrest, police officers say, "You have the right to remain silent...." as they have been for 34 years, since the U.S. Supreme Court made the reading of the rights mandatory in its decision in the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona case. Defendants are also advised of their right to remain silent, right to an attorney and that any statement they make may be used as evidence against them.

In the Miranda decision, the court ruled Ernesto Miranda's confession could not be used because he was not made aware of his rights when charged with kidnap and rape.

Central question in Dickerson case

The question before the Supreme Court in this year's Dickerson v. U.S. case is this: If a police officer forgets to recite Miranda or a suspect talks to the police "voluntarily" before being advised of his rights, may the confession be admitted in court?

At issue is Section 3501 of the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968, which says the failure to read the rights is one of several factors in deciding whether the statement was made voluntarily. In other words, the statute, passed just two years after Miranda, can be construed as having been enacted to overrule Miranda.

The U.S. government has never sought to enforce Section 3501, holding the Miranda rights to be paramount. And the constitutional validity of Section 3501 has never been answered by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to an independent analysis of the case by Alan Raphael, who teaches at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, for the American Bar Association.

Indeed, a landmark 1996 Supreme Court ruling reaffirmed that police must advise suspects of their right to remain silent in a decision that linked Miranda rights to the Constitution's Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Controversial lower court ruling

But last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that what Charles Dickerson told the police -- before they read him his rights -- could be used in his 1997 trial in Virginia on bank robbery charges.

The appeals court cited the little-used Section 3501.

One reason the 4th Circuit's decision was surprising was because neither party in the Dickerson case -- the defendant nor the Justice Department -- focused on the 1968 law. The issue was raised in a friend-of-the-court brief by the conservative Washington Legal Foundation.

Law experts say courts normally will base their rulings on what both sides argue in court and mention in court filings.

Some have said the ruling by the Richmond, Virginia, based 4th Circuit, which hears appeals from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, proves that the court is bent on reshaping constitutional law to its own conservative bent.

The state criminal case over whether Dickerson was part of a minor bank robbery on January 24, 1997, has remained unresolved as the questions surrounding his confession to the police were resolved by the nation's highest court.

The robbery of a NationsBank in Alexandria, Virginia, -- now Bank of America -- netted $876. Based on eyewitness accounts, police determined that the car was an Oldsmobile Ciera registered to Dickerson.

At first, Dickerson told FBI agents he was simply in the vicinity of the bank at the time of the robbery. He made a second statement that a relative named "Jimmy" -- James Rochester -- may have robbed the bank while hitching a ride with him.

Whether he was read his rights before the second statement was the point of contention that led to the court battle over the constitutional question.

Reuters contributed to this report.

How Miranda Really Works
June 7, 2000
Miranda rights put to test in Supreme Court case
April 20, 2000
Supreme Court to hear challenge to Miranda warning
April 18, 2000
With or without Miranda
December 8, 1999
Government files brief seeking to preserve Miranda warnings
November 2, 1999
Justice seeks to overturn recent Miranda ruling
March 10, 1999
Justice Department: Latest Miranda ruling 'wrongly decided'
February 17, 1999
New Miranda limits draw mixed legal reactions
February 11, 1999

Supreme Court of the United States
U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion on U.S. v. Charles T. Dickerson
U.S. Supreme Court 1966 opinion on Miranda v. Arizona
Charles Thomas Dickerson, Petitioner v. United States - Brief
Article about Paul Cassell

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