'You Have The Right To Remain Silent:' Revisiting Phoenix Case That Established Miranda Rights 50 Years Ago

Published: Monday, June 13, 2016 - 8:59am
Updated: Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 9:21am
Audio icon Download mp3 (6.18 MB)
(Photo courtesy of the Phoenix Police Museum)
Ernesto Miranda's booking photos.
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit)
U.S. Circuit Judge Barry G. Silverman
(Photo by Matthew Casey, KJZZ)
Former Phoenix Police Det. Carroll Cooley
(Photo courtesy of Debus, Kazan & Westerhausen - DKW Lawyers)
Trial lawyer Larry Debus was a Phoenix police detective in the early 1960s.
(Photo courtesy of the The University of California)
University of California President Janet Napolitano was a partner at the firm now called Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP, which won Miranda V. Arizona. Napolitano was governor of Arizona and U.S. Secretary of the Dept. of Homeland Security.

In December 1969, college freshmen and future United States Circuit Judge Barry G. Silverman made it a point to meet Ernesto Miranda in the old Maricopa County Superior Court building.

“After several disappointing continuances and other delays, a deputy sheriff emerged from the elevator with his celebrated prisoner,” Silverman wrote in the June 2006 edition of Phoenix magazine. “Awkwardly because of his handcuffs, Miranda and I shook hands.”

A man with more criminal convictions than grades completed, Miranda befriended Silverman, gave him exclusive access and trusted him to write an unpublished biography.

“Well, you know, as serial rapists go, he was a pretty nice guy,” Silverman said in a recent interview. “He was always very polite, well-groomed — always very gentlemanly in his dealings with me.”

June 13, 2016, is the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Miranda v. Arizona. Though the 40th anniversary of Miranda’s murder was in January, and many others involved have also passed away, perhaps the most enduring case in U.S. history lives on in the Valley of the Sun.

The Crime and Confession

In March 1963, Phoenix police received a report that a woman had been kidnapped and raped near 7th Street and Marlette Avenue. Detective Carroll Cooley was assigned the case. He used motor vehicle and post office records as well as Miranda’s criminal record to identify him as a potential suspect.

“It was great leg-work,” said prominent trial attorney Larry Debus, who was a Phoenix police detective in the early 1960s. “Most police work is a lot of leg work.”

Cooley went to Miranda’s home, and the suspect volunteered to come in for an interview. In those days, the Phoenix Police Department was housed in the same historic building where Silverman would later meet Miranda.

Miranda agreed to appear in a police lineup, and the victim identified him. But she wasn’t absolutely sure.

“So we went back in and talked to him after the lineup,” Cooley said. “At that point, he asked us, ‘How did I do?’ And I said, ‘You didn’t do so good, Ernie.' He says, ‘I guess I’d better tell you about it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think you should.’ So he told us about it and wrote the confession.”

Miranda Goes Through The Courts

When the case went to trial, Miranda’s court-appointed lawyer was not well-versed in criminal defense.

Alvin Moore only ended up on the case because he’d heard that other lawyers, upset over low pay, planned to refuse to take on indigent clients, Silverman said.

“But this guy did some legal research and he wound up making what turned out to be a very significant objection to the confession,” Silverman said.

The confession Miranda signed said, among other acknowledgments, that he knew his legal rights. But police didn’t explicitly tell him those rights before the trip downtown.

Still, in the early 1960s, Silverman said the only way to get a confession thrown out was to prove it resulted from physical force, threats or improper promises. “There was none of that in this case,” Silverman said.

So Judge Yale McFate, who Silverman said was the last Superior Court judge that didn’t go to law school, overruled Moore’s objection. The confession remained a key piece of the prosecution’s evidence, and Miranda was convicted and sentenced to prison.

The Arizona Supreme Court upheld Miranda’s conviction, but Silverman said Moore had laid the foundation for the legal argument that would get the case to the Supreme Court.

Oral arguments in front of the so-called Warren Court, considered by many to be the most liberal in U.S. history, took place in late February and early March 1966.

By then, one of Miranda’s lawyers was John J. Flynn, a World War II veteran who some say was Arizona’s greatest trial attorney.

“The police, at the very least, had an obligation to extend to this man not only his clear Fifth Amendment right, but to afford to him the right of counsel,” Flynn, of the firm now called Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP, told the court.

Other Lewis and Roca attorneys who worked on the case were John P. Frank and Peter Baird.

Frank had already helped win Brown v. Board of Education. Baird, who worked on the appeal, would later be co-counsel with Janet Napolitano, Arizona’s future governor, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and current president of University of California, on a case involving sanctuary churches and federal government spying.

“I think I was privileged to spend nine years of my life at a firm that had lawyers like John Frank and Peter Baird,” Napolitano said. "I was very fortunate to begin my legal career there."

A Ruling That Lives On

On June 13, 1966, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that a suspect’s constitutional rights extend outside the courtroom to when they're in police custody. Miranda got a new trial. But his common-law wife was the state's star witness, and her testimony helped convict him again.

Other police departments may have tried to ignore their role in a case so famous. Cooley, now in his 80s, has patiently retold the story to multiple generations of reporters. And the Phoenix Police Museum, located in the part of the old courthouse building where Miranda was interviewed, has an exhibit about the case.

“One of the problems we had is that a lot of people didn’t realize that Miranda is a Phoenix case,” said Bob Demlong, the museum’s co-curator and a retired Phoenix police commander.

Debus, the former Phoenix detective, is not among the uninformed. He keeps his 1969 Maricopa County Superior Court subpoena for Miranda’s retrial on a burglary case hanging in the hall leading to his law office. While Miranda's fame has grown over time, Debus said other Supreme Court cases like Escobedo v. Illinois forced police to start changing tactics before the Miranda decision.

“We learned it in training, we learned in academy class that if there’s a right and you violate it, enough,” Debus said. “Sooner or later they’re going to pass some laws that are not going to let you use that particular tool in law enforcement.”

Debus thinks the Miranda case is an example of great work by police and attorneys. “Good lawyers, concerned about the Constitution, saw a blatant violation, at least in their judgment, and took it to the Supreme Court and made law,” Debus said. “And as lawyers, that’s one of the things that we do, and we love doing it, and for us it’s fun.”

In 1968, Congress passed a law that replaced Miranda with what The New York Times called “a case-by-case test of whether a confession was voluntary.

In 2000, the Supreme Court shot down that law and reaffirmed Miranda. Fifty years after the original decision, Napolitano said courts still weigh questions about when police must inform a suspect of their rights.

“You see very legalistic distinctions made,” Napolitano said. “Was someone in custody or not? What does it mean to be in custody? Was the lack of a warning prejudicial? Those kinds of cases continue to be litigated.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to clarify that Peter Baird worked on the case's appeal.

If you like this story, Donate Now!