On March 13th, 1963 an Hispanic male was arrested by the Phoenix police department based on circumstantial evidence of the kidnapping and sexual assault of a 17 year old female ten days earlier. During the subsequent interrogation, the police informed the man that the young woman had picked him out of the lineup. She hadn’t. They lied. It is legal for the police to lie to suspects. The result was a full confession which was used in court to the effect that he was convicted and sentenced to 20 to 30 years. They don’t really mean 20 to 30 years of course. He would be paroled after 5 years.
When the man signed his confession there was a statement that said he was doing so voluntarily and without having been coerced. On the other hand, no attorney had been present nor was he informed of his right to remain silent. Eventually his case went to the Supreme Court which overturned his confession. At that moment, this unknown, criminally inclined Hispanic male became a household name. He was, you see, Ernesto Miranda. He had the right to remain silent. It was assumed by the court that he did not know this. The police should have told him. So now they do.
“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?”
The consequences of this monumental decision were predicted to be dire. Criminals were going to freely roam the streets, committing crimes and refusing to talk to the police. Barring their confessions, society would be unable to convict them. A total breakdown of law and order would result! You know who said this of course. Politicians (the police nodded their heads in agreement.)
Then CSI came along and we didn’t need no confessions after all. In fact, they retried Ernesto without using his confession and there was sufficient evidence to convict him anyway. Again he received 20-30 years. Of course, he was paroled after 5 years. (Perhaps this kind of early release for vicious crimes might be the real problem?)
After his release from jail, Miranda made a modest living signing Miranda warning cards for the police. The rate was $1.50 per card.
On January 31st, 1976, he was playing cards in La Amapola, a bar in Phoenix. At some point, a fight broke out over a small amount of change lying on the bar. A man named Eseziquiel Moreno (I have no idea how to pronounce his first name) was suspected of fatally stabbing Ernesto during the fight. When questioned by the police, Moreno asserted his Miranda rights…..and was released. No one was ever charged with the crime.
Such ironies are common to man. They are so fascinating that playwrights make a living creating and staging stories about them. Movies love the ironic ending. In most of these dramatic presentations, irony is used to illustrate human folly. Pride which is meant to lift up actually falls, that supposed brilliance is actually moronic, that the apparently evil was secretly doing good, etc.
Ernesto Miranda’s story teaches me two things. There appears to be a hidden hand that sometimes directs that justice be done in an unexpected manner on this earth. It does not always happen of course but when it does, we take notice and marvel at it. Often, it looks very much like the hand of God, at least to me.
The other lesson is this. The character and heart of any of us will reveal itself no matter how thoroughly we try to hide it. Ernesto lived a relatively violent and miserable life. Violence ultimately caught up with him. Even so, what if he had refused to argue or fight over the change lying on the bar? What if he had been willing to suffer the loss of it rather than fight about it? What if he did not frequent bars at all? The only way that series of “what if’s” could come true lies in this question: what if Ernesto Miranda had changed into a different man with a different heart? What if he was no longer a criminal in mind and deed? History would have been different.
That’s a “what if” for all of us to consider.