Is Miranda Good News or Bad News for the Police? The Usefulness of Empirical Evidence
Texas Tech Law Review, Vol. 50, No. 1, 2017
16 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2019
Date Written: 2017
The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona created a culture in which police officers regularly warn arrestees that they have a right to remain silent, that anything they say can and will be used against them in a court of law, that they have the right to an attorney, and that if they cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed to them. These Miranda warnings have a number of possible effects. The warnings are meant to inform suspects about negative consequences associated with speaking to the police without the assistance of counsel. In this sense they may put defendants — both those who are aware of the law in this area and those who are not — on an equal playing field, at least theoretically. But Miranda warnings could result in fewer confessions, which could have a negative effect on conviction and clearance rates. They could also be a toll on already limited police resources. But Miranda warnings could also foster more careful police investigations. On the other hand, they could have a sanitizing effect on confessions, making judges less likely to look thoroughly into the voluntariness of confessions.
There have been a number of empirical studies directed at assessing whether the Miranda decision was good news or bad news for the police. These studies have generally focused on whether Miranda resulted in reducing the number of confessions and also crime clearance and conviction rates. This Essay questions the usefulness of these studies. It outlines the difficulties associated with empirical studies generally, especially where accurate data is unavailable such as in the Miranda context. The Essay also questions whether empirical studies can be useful in this context anyway. Even if reliable results are achievable, what exactly are we to glean from determining whether Miranda has made it more difficult for police officers and prosecutors to elicit confessions, clear crimes, and secure convictions? Aside from these potential impacts on the police, Miranda has important effects on other actors, such as suspects, prosecutors, and the public. Too narrow of a view of impact leads to a myopic view of the landmark case.
Keywords: Miranda v. Arizona, Miranda rights – empirical studies, criminal justice, criminal procedure, police interrogation, confessions
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