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Student Question

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Miranda v. Arizona (1966), determined that before a law enforcement officer can question a person who is in police custody, the officer must first notify the suspect of his/her right against self incrimination and the right to an attorney. How has this impacted the way law enforcement officers conduct the questioning of suspects? Do you think the Miranda warnings unreasonably tie the hands of law enforcement officers? Why did the Court impose such a strict guideline? 

Are there any US Supreme Court cases since the Miranda decision that have strengthened or weakened the rule established under Miranda? Please identify and discuss at least one of these cases in detail.

Expert Answers

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The case Miranda v. Arizona (1966) stated that police officers must notify suspects being taken into police custody of their rights before questioning them. This means that officers must tell people what they are saying can be used against them in a court of law. Some people argue that this ties officers' hands because they cannot find out information without taking someone into custody and advising them of their rights. However, the court imposed these guidelines to protect defendants and make them aware of their rights before being taken into police custody. The court also wanted defendants to know they can have a lawyer present before being questioned so that the lawyer can advise the defendant about how to present his or her case in a way that protects his or her constitutional rights. 

A recent case before the Supreme Court that weakened Miranda v. Arizona is Salinas v. Texas (2013). In this case, Houston police officers questioned a man named Genovevo Salinas about a double homicide in 1992 before reading him his Miranda rights. Salinas answered all the questions the police asked him until the question came up about whether the gun shells found at the crime scene matched the gun at Salinas's house. He remained silent in response to this question. Later, the shells were matched by a ballistics expert to Salinas's gun. Salinas was charged with the double homicide but could not be found for 15 years.

When he was seized by the police, his first trial concluded with a mistrial. During his second trial, Salinas's lawyer argued that Salinas could use his Fifth-Amendment right against self-incrimination even though he wasn't in police custody at the time. Salinas was found guilty, and the case was reaffirmed by the Appeals Court. The Supreme Court tried the case. The question was whether a defendant can be protected under the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination before he has been read his Miranda Rights. The court handed down a 5-4 decision stating that the Fifth Amendment does not cover suspects who remain silent during questioning and that defendants must specifically invoke their right against self-incrimination. The court stated that the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination means a defendant does not have the right to remain silent but has the right to refuse to testify against himself. 

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