Assignment: 1966: Miranda v. Arizona

It’s June 13th, 1966. “Paint It Black” is the #1 song in the country, having displaced “When a Man Loves a Woman”, which fell to #4. Also in the Top 10: “Strangers In The Night” by Frank Sinatra and “Monday, Monday”. In further music news, Janis Joplin made her debut with Big Brother and the Holding Company on the 10th at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. The same day, members of the KKK’s Mississippi White Knights brutally murder sharecropper Ben Chester White as part of a scheme to lure Martin Luther King to the area in order to mount an assassination attempt. On the 11th, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? made its premiere after Jack Valenti gave the picture special dispensation to be released in theatres, though with a warning that only adults could be admitted. However, the big news comes from the Supreme Court, who rules in Miranda v. Arizona that Miranda’s confession was inadmissible because he had not been notified of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights (and therefore had not legally waived those rights).

The effect of this was massive. Suddenly, there was a check on coercive interrogations, which could be notoriously harsh (read: violent) depending on the municipality and the race of the suspect. But, for the average American, this decision was felt in one extremely visible way: TV cop shows (and cop movies, for that matter) suddenly featured a scene where the bad guy (or the hero, if need be) was told that he had the right to remain silent, and that anything they said could be used against them in a court of law. An important protection was not only confirmed, but it became an ingrained part of American culture (which, thanks to the exportation of our films and TV shows, is also well-known abroad). It was a landmark decision not only for the legal ramifications, but because of the widespread cultural effect.

But it’s not that simple. Miranda was actually convicted on retrial, because their were actual eyewitness accounts. This meant that the Phoenix Police Department was also guilty of laziness, which is about as damning a criticism as you can have of a police force. But, on a greater scale, this ties into the notorious racial politics of Arizona. This was the home of Barry Goldwater, whose 1964 Presidential campaign was the birth of the modern conservative movement, which in case you haven’t noticed, is notoriously extremist and racist. (Moreover, Ronald Reagan and Phyllis Schlaffly got involved in politics as a result of Goldwater’s Presidential run). And in 1990, Arizona voters notoriously rejected making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a state holiday, costing Phoenix (and Sun Devil Stadium, which was an ungodly dump of a football stadium at the time) Super Bowl XXVII. Furthermore, Phoenix is in Maricopa County, home the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Joe Arpaio, whose policies are so mindblusteringly racist as to defy belief. So, yeah, institutional racism? Kind of a factor here.

And, of course, there’s Berghuis v. Thompkins, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that ruled that an “ambiguous or equivocal” statement (or no statement at all) did not mean that the police could halt an interrogation. This, of course, totally gutted Miranda, a rather standard state of affairs for the more recent, conservative, iterations of the Supreme Court.

Next time on Star Trek Debriefed (Catch Up Edition), it’s time to pause and discuss a certain notorious new edict from Star Trek‘s rights holders.

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