Opinion: Five Words That Changed America

Apr 21, 2021, 12:39 PM | Updated: 12:49 pm

criminal justice reform handcuffs prison...

FILE: Handcuffs at the Oquirrh 1 housing facility at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News

This is an editorial piece. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with the KSL newsroom.


We all know the five words. We grew up watching Columbo or NYPD Blue, and now we binge Law and Order. So, when a police officer begins “You have the right to remain silent,” we can finish, “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you.”

We know the “Miranda warnings,” but do we know the story behind Miranda? The case of Miranda v. Arizona that went to the Supreme Court in 1966, and led to the 5-4 decision written by then Chief Justice Earl Warren? It’s a fascinating story, and until yesterday, I didn’t know it.

I am an alumnus of the University of Utah, so I am eligible to join the Osher Lifelong Learning classes offered through the University (I highly recommend them).

Five words that changed America

I logged on to a class this week taught by two law professors, Amos Guiora (who’s been my guest on KSL often) and Louisa Heiny.

They’ve written a book that is more storytelling than law: Five Words That Changed America. They went back and spoke with the actual people involved. They talked at length with the detective who questioned Ernesto (Ernie) Miranda, a man named Carroll Cooley.

Cooley told them Miranda denied everything for the first hour they questioned him, but after they lied to him and told him the victim picked him out of a lineup, he confessed. That confession was later thrown out based on the ruling that Miranda was not informed of his rights.

The professors explained there is nothing illegal about police lying to a suspect in this way. That happens all the time. And in this case, the interviewing of Miranda was not unnaturally long, lasting only two hours. Cooley was upset with the prosecutors and, therefore, the Supreme Court actually got some of the facts wrong, but not upset about the Miranda warning that resulted from the case. 

“It’s the law,” he said, without bitterness. “But we had a righteous case.”

The case behind Miranda warnings  

The case of Miranda v. Arizona is the story of a repeat sex offender who had served time for multiple crimes and was dishonorably discharged.

He was accused by a rape victim who, when she reported the rape, was dismissed initially by police as “mentally slow.” They actually questioned her virginity. Only when she returned with a partial license plate after seeing the car again did the case start to go anywhere.

This is the story of a brave woman, a rookie cop, a rapist and a Supreme Court Chief Justice who knew that suspects needed to be told earlier in the arrest process that they had a right to an attorney.

Justice Earl Warren knew that suspects were psychologically abused, even if that didn’t happen in this case. He knew that these rights had to be spelled out to suspects because not everyone knew what their rights were, especially those who were poor and not able to hire their own lawyer. 

The book tells the story behind the story. It tells how the Supreme Court got hate mail after the decision, and what happened to Ernie Miranda after he was retried for rape. I can’t wait to read it.

These five words – “The right to remain silent” – came with a story, and it’s one worth knowing.

More from Amanda Dickson 

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Opinion: Five Words That Changed America