'You have the right to remain silent': The Miranda Warning and its Phoenix origin

"You have the right to remain silent."

You know the line from every cop show or movie you’ve seen created after the mid-'60s. Well, that list of rights read aloud is known as the Miranda Warning, and it became part of police practice following a Supreme Court ruling in 1966.

The case at the center of that landmark decision traces back to Phoenix, Arizona, and a man from Mesa, who confessed to a heinous crime.

‘I guess I better tell you …’

In March 1963, a young woman left work in downtown Phoenix and got on the bus to go home. As she was walking from the bus stop to her home, she was stopped by a man who pulled her by the arm, into his older-model Packard car.

He tied her up. He raped her. He got away.

A tip led then-Phoenix Police Detective, Capt. Carroll Cooley, to a home on west Mariposa Street in Phoenix, the home of a young Hispanic man in his 20s, Ernie Miranda, and his Packard in the driveway.

"So he comes to the door and he says, ‘What’s this about?’ And we told him that we were investigating a police incident, and we would like to talk to him," Cooley said in a 2022 interview.

Miranda went willingly with Cooley in an unmarked car.

"On the way, he asked ‘What’s this is about?' And we said, I said, ‘Let’s just wait until we get to the department, and we’ll tell you all about it,’" Cooley recalled.

They took him down to what was then the Phoenix Police Station on 2nd Avenue between Jefferson and Washington where Miranda agreed to stand in a lineup.

"So then he asked me, ‘How did I do?’ and I said, ‘Well, you didn’t do so good, Ernie,’ sympathetically. He said, ‘Well, I guess I better tell you about it then.’ I said, ‘Yes, I think you should,’" Cooley remembered.

During interrogation, Miranda confessed to the crime. He wrote in great detail how he "grabbed her by the arm" and "tied her hands and ankles."

It was enough to send him up to the top floor of the building and into a jail cell.

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(Left) Ernie Miranda next to other men in a Phoenix Police line up

‘Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?’

Miranda was convicted in the rape case and the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed that conviction. But in November 1965, the case went to the nation’s highest court.

"The Supreme Court at that time in the mid-'60s had been actively looking for a case, or more than one case, to resolve an enormous conflict in American law," said Arizona State Law Professor Gary Stewart who was a law student at the time.

He's talking about the conflict centered around confessions.

Can you use them in court based on the assumption they're given voluntarily? Does someone have to remind the defendant that they can be silent? And if so, who?

"Because we know, in thousands of cases, that in many, many, many cases and most cases, a great majority of the cases, that the defendant has no idea what his rights are," Stewart said.

In 1966, the Supreme Court decided police officers would be required to remind suspected criminals of their rights before questioning with the Miranda Warning.

"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?"

"Once Miranda came down, it was an easy deal for the cops. All they had to do was read him his rights," Stewart said. "If he confesses, he confesses," Stewart said.

The new law changed police practice in America. It was also life-changing for Cooley as his work as a new detective was thrust into the spotlight, and criticized.

"They decided that the police officer should tell him that. Well, we weren’t trained to tell them that. That was not something we did," Cooley explained. "I didn’t like it. I didn’t like how it affected me. But it was probably good for police work and the country.

When Cooley was asked if he thought Miranda still would have confessed had he been told he could remain silent under today’s law, he said yes.

"Maybe I wasn't the smoothest guy, but I was friendly, I treated people, I don’t care who they were, I treated them nice," he said. "You give people respect, you get respect back. I just knew that. Nobody taught that, and so yes, I just think Miranda, under the circumstances, would have been willing to tell me anyway."

Miranda was re-tried in Arizona, and this time, the confession was excluded from the evidence. Still, he was convicted again.

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Former Phoenix Police Detective, Capt. Carroll Cooley

The future of the Miranda Warning

In 1972, while on parole, Miranda started making money on the street, autographing Miranda Warning cards and selling them.

Ultimately in 1976, he was murdered in a downtown Phoenix bar. Ironically, police read the suspect his Miranda Warning before questioning.

56 years after his murder, the warning that bears Miranda's name is still being read to suspected criminals across America.

"I call it a 30-second tutorial on the constitution. It's given thousands and thousands of times in every little city and town and state in this country," Stewart said.

The story behind the warning is forever a part of American history, Arizona’s history, and Cooley’s life, which he dedicated to public service.

"I'm no legend. Never was, never will be. I'm just a simple person, who has done the best he could, under the circumstances in life itself," Cooley said.

The Miranda Warning has been debated over and over again since the '60s. Some have argued the warning is prophylactic – unnecessary.

In 2022, a case called Vega v. Tekoh went to the Supreme Court, and in June, the court decided if a confession is used against a defendant in a criminal case, the defendant can't come back and sue the police in civil court.

What's this mean for Miranda? Well, that remains to be seen. Time will tell.

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Arizona State Law Professor Gary Stewart