If Walls Could Talk: Crime Fiction & Miranda Rights

M.H. Norris

When writing crime, I often find myself having to look up legal jargon, previous cases on various levels (usually State and a few Supreme Court cases), protocol for various things, police procedure (in fact, I have a couple books for that), and of course laws. James and I often discuss my ideas for this column and in my traditional round of  “I don’t have a topic what am I going to do” James came up with the idea of doing a sub-series talking about various aspects of crime fiction. So here’s the first post of that little sub-series, “Crime Fiction &…”

While doing research for Badge City: Notches, I found myself having to have a crash course in police procedure and one of my favorite things was reading about the Miranda rights. Of course with Deidre being a detective, those would come into play and they got mentioned in a book I read.

Often with crime shows and books, we hear about the Mirada rights and people getting Mirandized but until I started working on Badge City, I didn’t know a lot about them.

The Miranda rights earned their name in the 1960s, but have their basis in the Fifth Amendment. Here’s my first writing tip for this blog post, if you are going to write crime, become familiar with the Bill of Rights. (Most writers aren’t lucky like me and have a little brother who has a copy of the Constitution handy.) Granted, there is Google, but you’ll find you know your way around those first ten amendments.

Here’s the Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The clause that the Miranda rights focuses on is where they can not be compelled to be a witness against themselves, the right against self incrimination.

But where does it get its name?

A lot of people are like Madea and refer to Miranda as an actual person. She tends to come and visit when you’ve gotten yourself into a nice bit of trouble (or not, as in Madea’s case). But, while they are right about Miranda being a real person, Miranda was actually a he. Ernesto Miranda was charged with kidnapping and rape in 1963 and found guilty and sentenced to 20-30 years in jail. In 1966 the infamous Supreme Court case, Miranda vs. Arizona, came to court and found that Miranda hadn’t been properly informed of his rights under the Fifth Amendment. In his retrial a year later, he was once again found guilty and sentenced the exact same way as before.

Of course, we’ve heard the familiar words on many a crime show, but in case you haven’t here is what is traditionaly said when a person is Mirandized.

“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?” On a show, we traditionally hear these rights being “read” to a criminal as the detective/agents of insert agency here is slapping the cuffs on them. I read in Police Procedure and Investigation that that is often not the case.

Often times, one doesn’t get Mirandized until you are in the interrogation room and not only are you read your rights, but you are given a paper with them and are asked to sign saying you understand your rights. When doing research for this post, just to brush up on my facts, I read a statement that confirmed this. The Miranda rights aren’t necessary for an arrest to be made, they are necessary for an interrogation to happen. Granted, this information doesn’t come into play with your name, age, address and the like, but everything else…

Upon his release, Miranda got into a violent barfight and was stabbed. He was declared dead upon arriving at the hospital. His killer claimed his rights under Miranda v. Arizona.

History does have a sense of humor at times…

The World of the Wall:

  • Our fourth Science of Deduction novella, John Linwood Grant’s A Study in Grey, will be out this Friday. Keep your eyes narrowed on our homepage, and on Amazon. You can find John online at his should-be-awarding-winning website, greydogtales.

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