Law and Famous Trials


What is the Miranda warning?

Familiar to many Americans from TV police dramas, the Miranda warning is a reading of the arrested person’s rights: “You have a right to remain silent … anything you say can and will be used against you in a court. You have a right to consult with a lawyer … if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you….”

Reading the defendant his rights became a requirement after the 1963 trial of Ernesto Miranda, a Mexican, who was accused of rape. He was found guilty and sentenced to 20 to 30 years imprisonment. But Alvin Moore, Miranda’s court-appointed lawyer, had revealed through his questioning of a police officer that the defendant had not been notified of his right to the services of an attorney. The same police officer had taken Miranda’s written confession following two hours of interrogation. Moore, convinced that the confession should not have been admissible in court because of the procedural error of not informing the defendant of his rights, appealed the Miranda case all the way to the Supreme Court. On June 13, 1966, the high court ruled, in a five-to-four decision, that Moore was right. Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891–1974) reasserted that “prior to any questioning a person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has the right to … an attorney.”

Miranda’s first trial was thrown out, and in 1967 he again stood trial in Arizona. But the prosecution secured new evidence; the testimonial of his estranged girlfriend that Miranda had confessed to her the rape he was charged with. He was convicted and again sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison. Released on parole, Miranda died in a bar fight in January 1976. But police officers, the courts, and defendants still remember the importance of the case—even if they can’t recall Miranda’s name or crime.

Thousands of men and women protest (on January 22, 1973) the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which ruled against state laws that criminalize abortion.

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