Rights of the Accused

Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

Case background and primary source documents concerning the Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. Dealing with the Fifth and Sixth Amendments and whether or not the accused needs to be advised of their rights upon arrest, this lesson asks students to evaluate the extent to which Miranda is the fulfillment of the legal tradition of the promise against self-incrimination.

Founding Principles

Due Process image

Due Process

The government must interact with all citizens according to the duly-enacted laws; applying these rules equally among all citizens.

Equal Protection image

Equal Protection

The principle of equal justice under law means that every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law. There are no individuals or groups who are born with the right to rule over others.

Rule of Law image

Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.

Case Background

Ernesto Miranda was accused of kidnapping and rape. The victim identified Miranda in a line-up. Miranda also identified her as the victim at the police station. He was taken to an interrogation room for two hours. He did not request a lawyer; neither was he informed that he had the right to have an attorney present.

After two hours of questioning, Miranda orally confessed to the crime, as well as signed a written confession. The confession included the acknowledgement: “I do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will with no threats, coercion or promises of immunity and with full knowledge of my legal rights understanding any statement I make may be used against me.”

Miranda was convicted of kidnapping and rape and sentenced to two twenty to thirty-year terms. He challenged the constitutionality of his conviction because he had not been advised of his rights to remain silent and have a lawyer present during questioning. His case eventually went to the Supreme Court. The Court had to consider whether confessions or other incriminating statements could be used by prosecutors at trial if police had not informed the accused person of their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

You have the right to remain silent. This Homework Help video explores the origins of this phrase and the other Miranda Rights.

Key Question

Evaluate the extent to which the ruling in Miranda is the fulfillment of the legal tradition of the promise against self-incrimination.


Read the Case Background and Key Question. Then analyze Documents A-K. Finally, answer the Key Question in a well-organized essay that incorporates your interpretations of Documents A-K, as well as your own knowledge of history.


Documents you will examine:

  1. Massachusetts Body of Liberties, 1641
  2. Laws of Connecticut Colony, 1655
  3. Cotton Mather, On Obtaining Confessions of Witchcraft, 1695
  4. Patrick Henry, Virginia Debates on Ratification of the Constitution, 1788
  5. Sections of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, 1791
  6. Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation, 1956
  7. Majority Opinion (5-4), Miranda v. Arizona, 1966
  8. Dissenting Opinion (Byron White), Miranda v. Arizona, 1966
  9. Dissenting Opinion (John Marshall Harlan), Miranda v. Arizona, 1966
  10. Miranda Warnings Card
  11. “They Used My Confession Against Me,” 2005

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