Who Was "Miranda" of the Miranda Warning?

jacoblund/iStock via Getty Images
jacoblund/iStock via Getty Images / jacoblund/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you’ve never had your own brush with the law, you no doubt know the Miranda warning. Somehow, maybe through the mass quantity of Law & Order and CSI-type shows, those words have seeped into our brains:

"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 an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?"

Those words are the result of the Miranda v. Arizona Supreme Court trial of 1966. Three years before, an 18-year-old Phoenix woman reported to police that she had been kidnapped, taken to the desert, and raped. The woman was able to provide details about the car her kidnapper drove, and those details took police to Ernesto Miranda. Though the woman couldn’t identify Miranda in a lineup, police took him into custody and performed an interrogation anyway. The grilling resulted in Miranda signing a confession.

Ernesto Miranda's mugshot.
Ernesto Miranda's mugshot. / Wikimedia Commons

Miranda later said he was forced into confessing because he was never made aware of his constitutional right to say nothing. His case wound up in front of the Supreme Court in 1966; they ruled that nothing Miranda "confessed" to could be used to try him because he was not properly educated on his rights. Almost immediately following the trial, the Miranda warning became a mandatory part of arrests.

That decision wasn’t popular with everyone, though. Even Richard Nixon was a vocal denouncer of rights-reading, as he believed that informing criminals of their rights would make police less effective and predicted that crime would skyrocket.

And what became of Miranda? The case was retried without the confession in 1967, but it turned out the jury didn’t need one to convict. Miranda was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison but got out in 1972. For a while, he made a living signing Miranda cards (small cards with the required saying printed on them) and selling them for $1.50. He had been out of prison for less than four years when he was killed in a bar fight in Phoenix in 1976 at the age of 36.

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This story has been updated for 2020.