Friday, April 07, 2006


Earl Warren - courtesy Wikipedia
This article is about the case ‘Miranda Vs. Arizona’ 348 US 486; the ‘exclusionary rule’; Earl Warren the 14th Chief Justice of USA and the philosophy of fairness that governed his life.

One can not help being obsessed with Earl Warren. He was that kind of a person; born on March 19, 1891, he went on to become the 14th Chief Justice of the United States of America (1953-69). But before I tell you more about Warren, you should know something about ‘Miranda Vs. Arizona’ (see Endnote-1), the most controversial and the most important criminal case decided by the Warren Court.

March, 1963. Place Phoenix, Arizona. Time 00:10am. A pretty, eighteen year old was coming home after a late night show when she was pulled inside a car, taken to a lonely place and was raped.

On March 13, 1963, 10 days later-Miranda a seriously disturbed indigent Mexican, with pronounced sexual fantasies, was arrested. He signs his confession in the interrogation room. It contains a paragraph, 'This confession is made voluntarily with full knowledge of his legal rights. At his trial this confession was admitted. He was convicted of kidnapping and rape. The Supreme Court of Arizona rejected his appeal. He sent his petition to the Supreme Court of United States from jail. Now his fate changed.

The Supreme Court held his confession to be inadmissible, and set aside his conviction. The court ruled that Miranda was neither apprised of his right to a counsel nor was his privilege against self-incrimination adequately protected. Any evidence (his confession) ignoring these principles had to be excluded. This case established that the police, before questioning a criminal suspect, must inform him of his rights to remain silent and to have a counsel present (appointed for him if he is indigent) and that a confession obtained in defiance of these requirements is inadmissible in court. (see Endnote-2)

This is known as the exclusionary rule. It has no historical background in any other jurisprudence. The Constitution also does not say anything about it. It is a judge made device, given constitutional mandate through judicial decisions. It was in 1886 that for the first time the court had declared private papers inadmissible as they had been illegally seized in contravention of the Fourth Amendment protecting citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. Nothing happened thereafter; the decision based on the amendment was thrown into the dustbin until the United States Supreme Court revived it again in 1941, holding documents obtained without a search warrant to be inadmissible. Miranda firmly established this rule. Though, unfortunately, not for very long.

Its supporters say it is a way of enforcing the Constitution and is a restraint on police misbehaviour. Others believe that it is the most unreliable way to deter lawlessness among the police. It is better to leave this debate to sociologists. But after all what is the value of constitutional rights, if they can be violated at will. In years to come Miranda has not been formally overruled but its effect has been watered down. The case itself drew public debate throughout the country. No other case except desegregation cases had generated so much heat, debate and emotion.

The case was presided over by Earl Warren, the 14th Chief Justice of USA. He presided over the Supreme Court during a period of sweeping changes in U.S. constitutional law, especially in the areas of race relations, criminal procedure, and legislative apportionment.

Warren in his first term on the bench in 1954, he spoke for a unanimous court in the leading schoo-desegregation case, Brown Vs Board of Education of Topeka 347 U.S. 483 declaring the separation of public-school children according to race unconstitutional. It overruled the separate but equal doctrine that had prevailed since 1896 in Plessy Vs Ferguson 163 U.S. 537. Warren stated that ‘separate educational facilities are inherently unequal’.

In Watkins Vs United States 354 U.S. 178. in 1957. Warren, upheld the right of a witness to refuse to testify before a congressional committee concerning federal and state loyalty and security investigations. He, in other opinions, likewise took a position discounting the fear of communist subversion that was prevalent in the United States during the 1950’s.

In 1964 in Reynolds Vs Sims 377 U.S. 533 known as the one man, one vote decision, he held that representation in state legislatures must be apportioned equally on the basis of population rather than geographical areas, remarking,‘legislators represent people, not acres or trees.’

But why did Warren Court hand down these rulings at that time. What kind of a man was he to have come down so heavily in favour of liberty and against state action. After all he was the man, who, as Attorney General of California, was involved in forced evacuation of 110,000 Japanese citizens and aliens from the West Coast following the bombing of Pearl Harbour. But then he was not the only one. President Roosevelt had issued the order. Tom Clark, Assistant Attorney General of the United States, had dispatched it. The Department of Justice had helped the army to enforce it. The only man of any distinction to oppose it was Abe Fortas, the most distinguished lawyer ever to adorn the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. (see Endnote-3) A Commission has since then offered compensation for those evacuations. The nation has recognised its shame. Warren himself in his memoirs apologised for his involvement, but then there was another incident.

May 14, 1938 Bakersfield, California. Methias Warren, father of Earl Warren, the District Attorney, aged seventy-three was killed and his money stolen. The police were sure of the killer. They wanted to keep an informer in the cell with him and wire the cell for sound. This was illegal. Earl Warren refused. He loved his father, but to convict even a guilty man on the basis of evidence illegally obtained was unthinkable; for Earl Warren, at least. The suspect was ultimately not even arraigned in a court of law. He preached what he had practised, a trait not found in many. Now I am sure you understand why it is difficult not to be obsessed by him.

Before I end, you may be asking what the heading But, is it fair, has to do with this article. Warren was neither a great scholar nor a constitutional expert. But one thing he knew, and that was fairness. But, is it fair was the question that most of the lawyers appearing before him had to answer. It is the same question that governed his life and his judicial philosophy. And it was on this touchstone that he tested all state actions. And it was this nagging doubt that changed Miranda’s fate.

Endnote-1: It is reported in 348 US 468. For details kindly see Miranda: Crime, Law and Politics by Liva Baker Published by Atheneum.

Endnote-2: Indian Supreme Court in DK Basu Vs State of WB 1997 (1) SCC 416: AIR 1997 SC 610: 1997 CRLJ 743: (1997) 1 JT (SC) 1 has laid down requirements to be followed in case of arrest. Failure to comply renders the official liable to departmental action, contempt and damages.

Endnote-3: He however, resigned over a controversy.
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