Too Far Too Fast

The Warren Court had made a habit… out of rewriting Constitutional law.  Landmark civil rights cases such as Baker vs. Carr and Brown v. Board of Education drastically altered the segregated South, while Engel vs. Vitale and Griswold vs. Connecticut would fuel the culture wars for decades to come.  It was the criminal procedure mandates handed down by Earl Warren that have drawn his court’s legacy into question.  Brady vs. Maryland, Gideon vs. Wainwright, and  Escobedo vs. Illinois radically altered due process and police procedure, some argue to the detriment of law enforcement.  No other case symbolizes the Warren Court’s activism better than Miranda vs. Arizona, handed down on June 13, 1966.

Legislating from the bench

Few cases are as misunderstood…and detested as the ‘Miranda’ ruling.  The basic holding was that due process begins when a suspect is taken into custody, not when they enter legal proceedings.  Warren was not satisfied with a simple procedural question, taking the decision to the Constitutional level-

The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.

“The Court is not a general haven for reform movements”.[

 It was now the responsibility of the state to inform the citizens of their 5th and 6th amendment protections The Warren Court was deeply divided in delivering a 5-4 decision.  Justice John Marshall Harlan did not approve of Warren’s reach, “nothing in the letter or the spirit of the Constitution or in the precedents squares with the heavy-handed and one-sided action that is so precipitously taken by the Court in the name of fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities….This Court is forever adding new stories to the temples of constitutional law, and the temples have a way of collapsing when one story too many is added.”    

Civil libertarians argue the technical risks of freeing criminals …is worth the protections the opinions offer, but Justice Byron White could not concur, “I have no desire whatsoever to share the responsibility for any such impact on the present criminal process. In some unknown number of cases, the Court’s rule will return a killer, a rapist or other criminal to the streets and to the environment which produced him, to repeat his crime whenever it pleases him. As a consequence, there will not be a gain, but a loss, in human dignity.”

 

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