NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Miranda And Voluntary Confessions

December 13, 1999

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review Dickerson v. U.S., a case in which a suspected bank robber in police custody made a voluntary, incriminating statement -- without being Mirandized -- that a trial judge allowed a jury to hear.

  • The Clinton administration warns that the case could mean the end of the famous 1966 Miranda warnings police give to advise suspects of their rights.
  • The appeals court for the U.S. Fourth Circuit held that the confession was allowable, although FBI agents hadn't read the suspect, Charles Dickerson, his rights.
  • It found Congress had modified the Miranda warnings in a 1968 law -- known as Section 3501 --that made voluntary confessions acceptable.

And in fact, in its original Miranda decision, the Supreme Court called for legislative experimentation to ensure that confessions were obtained voluntarily, and disclaimed any attempt to create a "constitutional straightjacket."

Interestingly, Attorney General Janet Reno and Solicitor General Seth Waxman have filed a brief siding with the defendant in the Dickerson case -- although the Justice Department is the agency prosecuting him, and Justice officials are supposed to defend the constitutionality of laws enacted by Congress.

Source: Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), "Miranda Warnings and Voluntary Confessions Can Co-Exist," Wall Street Journal, December 13, 1999.


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