The history of the “right to remain silent”

| Jun 17, 2021 | criminal defense

One of the most popular sayings in the American crime drama is the police reciting the Miranda rights to a suspect. This starts out with the iconic, “You have the right to remain silent.”

However, it is notable that Americans did not always have this right clearly spelled out for them. Specifically, what the right to be silent meant used to be far less clear. There were two major court cases that established our modern understanding of what the right to remain silent actually means, and what an individual’s right to counsel is. According to the ACLU, these two landmark cases are Escobedo v. Illinois and Miranda vs. Arizona.

Escobedo v. Illinois

This court case took place in 1964. Escobedo vs. Illinois is what established the right of a criminal suspect to have counsel not only at trial but also during police interrogations. This particular case went all the way up to the US Supreme Court, where the ACLU used the police’s textbooks as evidence that the police conducted aggressive interrogations against suspects who did not have legal counsel.

The Chief Justice in this case, Earl Warren, also cited a 1959 ACLU publication, “Secret Detention,” when issuing his ruling in favor of Escobedo. Escobedo vs. Illinois is an early example of necessary criminal justice reform.

Miranda vs. Arizona

This court case from 1966 is the birthplace of the “you have the right to remain silent” speech. Miranda vs. Arizona established that police must tell suspects that anything they say after arrest to the police may turn into evidence against them. This case provided the link between the Fifth Amendment’s right not to incriminate oneself with Escobedo vs. Illinois’ bolstering of the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel.

 

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