Confessions of Guilt: From Torture to Miranda and Beyond

By George C. Thomas III; Richard A. Leo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Miranda Changes the Confessions World

At ten A.M. on June 13, 1966, Washington, D.C. was experiencing cool weather: It was only 68 degrees.1 But inside the Supreme Court building, emotions ran hot as Chief Justice Warren read his entire sixty-one-page opinion for the fivejustice majority in Miranda v. Arizona. “At times the emotion in his voice equaled that of the dissenters and bespoke the deep division in the Court over the new doctrine.”2 The dissenters read their opinions, too. “Justice Harlan, his face flushed and his voice occasionally faltering with emotion, denounced the decision as ‘dangerous experimentation’ at a time of a ‘high crime rate that is a matter of growing concern.’”

Our goal in this chapter is to describe the evolution of the Miranda doctrine from its beginning on that cool June day in 1966. One way to conceptualize this evolution is to focus on Miranda srhetorical embrace of the Hawkins-Leach dictum. Indeed, Miranda is mostly rhetoric—its narrow holding is that the defendants in the four cases before the Court had been compelled to answer questions by the inherent coercion of police interrogation. But, as we will see, different fact patterns would arise, and it was easy for less sympathetic Courts to modify Miranda’s analytical structure pretty much as they pleased. The journey here, which should be familiar by now, begins with Miranda’s view that suspects will be “deluded instruments of their own conviction” unless they receive warnings from the authorities and make a robust choice to waive those rights. Over the decades, however, the Court gradually modified the Hawkins-Leach view of suspects by assuming that the warnings solved any problem of inherent compulsion. Waiver is now almost automatic.

Upon reflection, one should not be surprised that the Court narrowed Miranda’s doctrine from what its expansive dicta suggested to what it is today. As Donald Dripps explained, the Court needed a “wide” rule that would apply to almost all interrogations because its previous attempts to offer guidance on a case-by-case basis had largely failed.3 A wide rule requires a fully theorized opinion with a deep justification. But deep justifications tend to be “intensely controversial. Rarely will a deep justification persuade a majority, and over time deep justifications that do

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