Words without Meaning: The Constitution, Confessions, and Mentally Retarded Suspects
130 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2016 Last revised: 6 Aug 2017
Date Written: 2002
The Supreme Court's Miranda decision rested upon the unverified assumptions that suspects who received the now-famous warnings not only would possess information ensuring that subsequent waivers were "knowing and intelligent," but also would possess the tools necessary to resist the pressures inherent in custodial interrogation, thus ensuring that confessions were "voluntary." The flaws in these assumptions are exposed when they are applied to mentally retarded people. The authors of this Article tested a sample of mentally retarded individuals to determine if they could understand the Miranda warnings, then compared these results to those obtained for a control group of nondisabled people. The results show that, in contrast to the nondisabled controls, mentally retarded people simply do not understand the warnings. They do not understand the context in which interrogation occurs, the legal consequences of confessing, the meaning of the sentences comprising the warnings, or even the warnings' individual words. For mentally retarded people, the Miranda warnings are words without meaning.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation