Ernesto A. Miranda

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Ernesto Arturo Miranda -- born in (or near) Mesa, Arizona, on March 9, 1941; [1] died in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 31, 1976; buried in Mesa City Cemetery, Mesa, Arizona -- was a perverted career criminal, one of whose cases caused the Supreme Court of the United States to establish a major due-process right for defendants in criminal cases: the right not to incriminate themselves by answering police officers' questions after they are arrested.


When Miranda was 6 years old, his mother died; not long afterward, his father (who had immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico before the son's birth) remarried. Miranda was never on good terms with his stepmother, and he did not get along with his father or his brothers, either. While he was in 8th grade at Queen of Peace Grammar School in Mesa (where he was seldom actually present) Miranda was convicted in 1954 of his first crime, a felony burglary, and sentenced to probation. He dropped out of school after that.

The next year Miranda was convicted of burglary again and sentenced to a year in reform school. In 1956 he was released from the Arizona State Industrial School for Boys, but a few weeks later he committed an attempted rape and assault, and he was sent back to that reform school for two years. The next time he was released (at age 17), he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he was arrested within months for armed robbery (of which he was not convicted) and for lack of supervision, violating the curfew, and being a "peeping Tom." After 45 days in custody in the county detention home, and now 18 years old, Miranda was released and "deported" back to Arizona, where he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Of the 15 months he was in the Army before being dishonorably discharged, Miranda spent 6 months (at hard labor) in the stockade at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for being AWOL many times and for spying on people engaged in sexual activities (= "peeping Tom" acts). (He had been ordered to undergo psychiatric counseling but had attended only one session.) Drifting through the South after his discharge from the Army, Miranda was jailed in Texas for not having money or a place to live (= vagrancy), and then he was arrested in Nashville, Tennessee, for driving a stolen car. Convicted of the federal felony of having driven it across state lines, he was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison, which he served at federal prisons in Chillicothe, Ohio, and Lompoc, California.

In California after his release, and now 21 years old, Miranda took up with Twila Hoffman, a 29-year old woman (with a young son and daughter) who was separated from her husband. Although Hoffman is sometimes described as Miranda's "girlfriend," their cohabitation constituted a common-law marriage under state law. The next year their daughter was born. Miranda then moved the family to Mesa (which is on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona), where he worked nights on the loading dock of a produce company in Phoenix, and Hoffman worked at a nursery school.

In March of 1963 Miranda was arrested for the kidnap and rape of a young woman in Phoenix. As discussed below, he was convicted, but that conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1966. He was convicted again at his new trial in 1967, but on his fifth application for parole, he was released in December 1972 after serving only a third of his sentence. Besides working sometimes as a delivery driver, he earned a little money selling autographed "Miranda Warning" cards for $1.50 each, and he committed many petty offenses -- numerous minor moving-vehicle offenses eventually cost him his driver's license, and when he was arrested for possession of a firearm, he was not convicted of that, but he was sent back to state prison for a year for violating his parole.

Miranda was released from prison for the last time in 1975. On January 31, 1976, he was drinking and playing cards with two Mexican men (both in the U.S. illegally) at the La Amapola Bar in Phoenix, when the three got into a fistfight over some coins lying on the bar. According to the police, one Mexican pulled a 6-inch knife and gave it to the other, telling him to "finish it with this." Miranda was stabbed once in the chest and once in the abdomen, and he died in the ambulance on the way to Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 34 years old.

The alleged killer escaped down a back alley, but police arrested the alleged accomplice. They immediately read him his "Miranda rights" off a card, and he declined to say anything. The authorities never had enough evidence to prosecute anyone for killing Miranda.

Miranda v. Arizona

By 1963 the Phoenix police had a thick file on Miranda: He repeatedly abducted young women, whom he then raped and robbed, and always in the same small section of town. Patty McGee (often referred to as "Jane Doe" in the legal proceedings and media accounts) was 18 years old and worked at a movie theater in Phoenix; she was mildly retarded, and knowing that she was made her very shy, so that she hardly even talked to anyone. On the night of March 2, 1963, she took the bus home from work, as usual; it dropped her off shortly after midnight, and as she was walking the few blocks home from the bus stop, Miranda pulled up in his car, grabbed her, tied her up, and forced her into his car, and drove for about 20 minutes before stopping. There he raped her, and he robbed her of the $4 she was carrying. Then he drove back and dropped her off about four blocks from her home, telling her to pray for him, about two hours after he abducted her.

McGee's family immediately called the police, who took her to Good Samaritan Hospital to be examined. The statements she gave the police then and later were not as coherent or as consistent as they might have been. She described Miranda and his vehicle well enough, however, that about a week later her brother (who had begun driving McGee to and from the bus stop since the crime) spotted Miranda driving around in the same vicinity, and the brother was able to give the police a description of the vehicle and a partial license-plate number -- it was registered to Hoffman. On March 13, 1963, the police arrested Miranda for kidnapping and raping McGee.

At the police station, McGee could not identify Miranda positively in a four-man lineup, but the police lied to Miranda, telling him he had been identified. After they talked to him for a while longer, he admitted to having committed the crime, and then they brought McGee into the interrogation room, and HE identified HER as the victim: "That's the girl." Although the detectives' accounts differed from Miranda's about what they told him about his rights while they were there, after about two hours they came out of the interrogation room with his written, signed confession.

At trial in Maricopa County, Arizona, in June 1963, the lawyer appointed to represent Miranda was Alvin Moore, who was 73 years old. Moore tried, unsuccessfully, to keep Miranda's confession from being admitted into evidence, and Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping. Judge Yale McFate sentenced him to 20 to 30 years on each charge, to be served concurrently. Moore filed Miranda's appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court, but that court affirmed the conviction.

Moore's health was failing, so in June 1965, from the Arizona State Prison, Miranda sent the Supreme Court of the United States his own petition for a writ of certiorari, but it was denied. Then Robert J. Corcoran, an attorney with the Phoenix chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, happened to see the Arizona high court's ruling in Miranda's appeal; Corcoran wrote to Moore, urging him to take the case up to the Supreme Court of the United States, but Moore said he could not because of his health (and Miranda's lack of funds). So Corcoran got three Phoenix lawyers to take on the case pro bono: John J. Flynn (who had agreed to do two A.C.L.U. cases per year), his law partner John P. Frank (an expert on constitutional law), and a young associate in their firm, Peter D. Baird. They wrote a 2500-word petition that focused not on the Fifth Amendment issue of self-incrimination but on the Sixth Amendment issue of the right to counsel before interrogation.

The Supreme Court of the United States did grant the writ of certiorari and grouped Miranda's case with three others involving the same issues. [2] Because there were so many lawyers to be heard, [3] including those from both sides of all four cases, from the A.C.L.U., and from the states that filed amicus curiae briefs, oral argument was scheduled for February 28 through March 2, 1966.

When the high court's decision was handed down on June 13, 1966, it was 5-to-4, in Miranda's favor, as many commentators had predicted -- the same justices had lined up on the same liberal/conservative sides of many rulings establishing Constitutional rights for criminal defendants. From then on, "Miranda warnings" [4] had to have been given before confessions could be admitted against criminal defendants at trials in state or federal courts.


Miranda learned of his victory from television news he was watching in prison. Although the prosecution's evidence against him would be slim without his confession, the authorities in Arizona insisted on retrying Miranda. Flynn was appointed to represent him, and the trial was set for October of 1966, but then both sides agreed to postpone it for four months -- McGee had married and was pregnant, and she didn't want to go through the ordeal of testifying against Miranda at trial until after her baby was born.

Just before the new date set for the trial, Hoffman (who was no longer Miranda's common-law wife) came to the district attorney with some evidence he could use: While he was in the county jail, a few days after he was arrested for raping McGee, when Hoffman had visited him, Miranda had told her he had kidnapped and raped an 18-year old; he asked Hoffman to go to McGee's family and say he would marry McGee if she dropped the charges against him. (Miranda assured Hoffman he would dump McGee and come back to Hoffman once he was out of jail.)

At the new trial, Hoffman testified to that, and McGee again testified to the attack. The jury deliberated less than an hour and a half before finding Miranda guilty of rape and kidnapping. Miranda was sentenced on the first anniversary of Flynn's argument to the Supreme Court of the United States for him -- this time, too, the sentence was 20 to 30 years in prison.

The next year, in 1968, Congress tried to undo the effect of Miranda by passing a law, 18 U.S.C. §3501, that said that in a federal trial (the only kind Congress could legislate about) a confession could be admitted against a criminal defendant if the judge found it to have been "voluntary," even if "Miranda warnings" had not been given. That statute was not challenged in the courts for 30 years, but in 1999 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that §3501, having been enacted later than the Miranda decision, overruled it. In the 7-to-2 [5] decision in Dickerson v. U.S., 530 U.S. 428 (2000), the high court upheld Miranda by reversing the 4th Circuit's judgment and ruling that the holding in Miranda was a matter of Constitutional law and so higher than any legislation Congress passed.


  1. Some writers give his birth year as 1940, but the tombstone placed on his grave by his relatives reads, "Beloved brother and friend / Ernesto A. Miranda / 1941 - 1976."
  2. Those other cases were: Vignera v. New York (No. 760); Westover v. United States (No. 761); and California v. Stewart (No. 584). Miranda's case was No. 759 in that court.
  3. At the oral arguments, the spectators' seats in the courtroom were packed, too: The case heard just before Miranda's was being argued by attorney F. Lee Bailey, who drew crowds whenever he appeared in court, and was that of Dr. Sam Sheppard, whose conviction for murdering his wife was the inspiration for, inter alia, the television series and movie "The Fugitive." (Bailey won on his argument that day, that the media circus at his trial had kept Sheppard from getting a fair trial.)
  4. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to the presence of an attorney to assist you prior to questioning and to be with you during questioning if you so desire. If you cannot afford an attorney, you have the right to have an attorney appointed for you prior to questioning. Do you understand these rights? Will you voluntarily answer my questions?" Note that England had been requiring similar "cautions" to suspects since the Judges' Rules were adopted there in 1912.
  5. Two of the conservative justices in the majority were friends who had dated each other at Stanford University, where they had gone to law school at the same time, and who had been practicing law in Phoenix while Miranda's case had been going on (but they had not had anything to do with it): William Rehnquist, who was appointed an associate justice by President Nixon in 1972 (and became chief justice later), and Sandra Day O'Connor, who was appointed to the court by President Reagan in 1981.