Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

MIRANDA VS ARIZONA: THE CRIME THAT CHANGED AMERICAN JUSTICE

The Trial of Ernest Miranda

Mirandas court trial was a cut-and-dried affair; the witnesses for the prosecution were Patty McGee, her sister, officers Cooley and Young, and Mirandas own written confession was the sole item entered into evidence. No witnesses were presented on Ernests behalf. The key to the trial, felt his lawyer, 73-year-old Alvin Moore, was that Mirandas confession was coerced and thereby inadmissible.

Moore was appointed by the court and reluctantly agreed to serve. He had extensive experience in criminal law, and had an outstanding record in defending rapists: in 35 trials, only one defendant had been convicted of rape. Moore had only the month before added his name to the list of attorneys who would accept the $100 fee for defending the countys indigent clients; he had stopped practicing criminal law several years before out of self-preservation, he told Liva Baker.

In close association with criminals, you begin to think like criminals, Moore said. In self-protection, I gradually began to withdraw from the practice of criminal law.

After reviewing Mirandas record, Moore felt that an insanity defense would be appropriate, and filed notice of his strategy one day before the case was set for trial. Over the next several weeks, Miranda met with psychiatrists for the defense and the state, who eventually told the court that Miranda was at least fit to stand trial. Even though Ernest was found to be mentally abnormal, he was able to understand the charges against him, the possible ramifications of a guilty verdict, as well as assist in his own defense. The reports forced Moore to abandon his insanity defense claim. The case was set for trial in mid-June 1963.

Patty McGee took the stand first for the prosecution and in quiet, halting tones, told the jury what had happened to her the previous March. She was a typical rape victim, traumatized by the assault, and several times she had to take breaks to recompose herself.

When Cooley took the stand and the prosecution attempted to have Mirandas confession entered as evidence, Moore objected. He felt Mirandas confession was in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and that it was inadmissible.  He questioned Cooley about the procedure for getting the admission from Miranda.

Did you warn him of his rights? the former military prosecutor asked Cooley.

Yes, sir. At the heading of the statement is a paragraph typed out, and I read this paragraph to him out loud, Cooley responded.

It is not your practice to advise people you arrest that they are entitled to an attorney before they make a statement?

No, sir, Cooley said.

Moore objected to the introduction of the confession because he believed the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that a suspect is entitled to an attorney at the time of arrest. He was referring to the high courts decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, where the court had not said a defendant is allowed to have an attorney during arrest, but that all defendants are allowed counsel during trial. Maricopa Superior Court Judge Yale McFate overruled the objection and allowed Mirandas confession to be heard by the jury.

During his jury instructions, McFate reminded the jurors that he had allowed Mirandas confession to be considered by them, but they were free to overrule his finding if they felt the confession was coerced.

Most importantly, however, he told the jury that while coercion of a confession would render it useless to the state, the fact that a defendant was under arrest at the time he made the confession, or that he was not at the time represented by counsel or that he was not told that any statement he might make could or would be used against him, in and of themselves, will not render such confessions involuntary.

It didnt take the jury long to decide that Miranda was guilty of rape and kidnapping. Two weeks later, Ernest Miranda was sentenced to 20 to 30 years on both charges, sentences to be served concurrently.

 

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