Lesson 5: Due Process Rights



 Have the courts gone too far in protecting a defendant’s rights against self-incrimination?



Ernesto Miranda was arrested for kidnapping and rape. At no time during his interrogation did the police inform him of his rights to counsel or to remain silent. After extended questioning, Miranda signed a confession. Miranda’s attorney appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, contending that the confession was illegally obtained.

In a precedent-setting ruling, the Supreme Court held for Miranda in a 5-4 vote, stating that "the prosecution may not use statements ... of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." A person held for interrogation must be informed of his rights to a lawyer and to remain silent. As a result of the ruling, Miranda’s confession was deemed inadmissible and he was allowed to go free.

The Miranda ruling proved an editorial writer’s delight, as proponents and opponents of the decision staked out positions over the question, "Has the Supreme Court gone too far is protecting defendant’s right against self incrimination?"



Students will be able to:

  • Explain the importance of the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
  • Analyze the facts, issues and decision in Miranda v. Arizona (1963).
  • Examine the impact of Miranda on the criminal justice system.



Handout 5A "Youth Freed"

Handout 5B "Miranda v. Arizona"

Handout 5C "Miranda Decision"

Handout 5D "Supreme Court Cartoon"


Time Required: 

1 class periods



 Distribute Handout 5A, "Youth Freed." Have students complete the exercise on the handout. Then, as part of the whole-class discussion, have them answer/explain the following:

  • What is this article about?
  • What headline did you give the article? Explain.
  • How did you react to the fact that this case resulted in the suspect going free?
  • Refer to the Fifth Amendment. Why did the Framers include in the Bill of Rights, the "right to remain silent." Why is this right considered so important? Did the police in this case violate Kennedy’s Fifth Amendment rights? Even if they did, does it justify the suspect in this case going free?
  • What did you know about the Miranda warnings? Based on what you read in this case, why are the Miranda warnings so controversial?
  • Was justice done in the case of Ryan Kennedy?

Distribute Handout 5C, "Miranda Decision." Have students complete the exercise on the handout. Then, as part of the whole-class discussion, have them answer/ explain the following:

  • Summarize the most important facts of the Miranda case.
  • What were the strongest arguments supporting the view that Miranda’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated?
  • What were the strongest arguments supporting the view the Miranda’s Fifth Amendment rights were not violated?
  • How convincing were the arguments for Miranda?
  • How convincing were the arguments against Miranda?
  • If you were on the Supreme Court at the time, how would you have decided in the Miranda case?


Performance Assessment:

 Conduct a class debate, "Resolved Miranda has given defendants too many rights." Three debaters should be assigned to a side. The rest of the class will take the role of asking questions, writing newspaper-type articles and editorials about the debate and debate scorers.


Further Enrichment:

Based on multiple intelligence theory.

Linguistic: Students should prepare a written dialogue between Miranda and his lawyer that supports the argument that Miranda's rights have been violated.

Logical/Mathematical: Students should prepare a survey concerning the right against self-incrimination and the Miranda warnings, and distribute the survey in their school. Results should be tabulated and students should determine the number and percent that support the ruling in Miranda and those who oppose it.

Kinesthetic: Students should prepare a short scene that can be performed for the class demonstrating the violation of one of the rights at issue in the Miranda decision. This should be followed by a discussion of the right that has been violated.

Spatial: Students should design buttons that illustrate their support or opposition to the Miranda decision.

Intrapersonal: Ask students the following questions: How would you feel if your Miranda rights were violated? Do you think a person should be released from custody if Miranda rights have been violated? What if you know the person is guilty? Are Miranda rights important to you?

Interpersonal: Divide the class into groups of equal size and assign a number to each member of the group. Instruct the groups to discuss the Miranda decision. Have the groups reassemble as a class and ask questions about Miranda. Call on a specific number to answer the question such that only "3s" answer a certain question and only "2's" answer another question until questioning is completed.

Musical: Have students write their own song about the rights of the accused.


Distribute Handout 5C and have students follow the directions. Ask students to research different opinions that resulted from the decision in the Miranda case. Then have them create a political cartoon, expressing their opinion of the decision researched in Miranda.



Youth Freed

Instructions: After reading the article below create a headline, which you should write in the space provided. Remember, a headline is an attention-grabber that informs the reader about the article in a dramatic way, using the fewest words possible.


[Create newspaper style page with headline]








The case began the night of May 28, 1996. A janitor found the body of Joanne Harrison (age 15) in a dark basement room in an apartment house in Yonkers, N.Y. She had been stabbed 16 times.

The following day, the police arrested 22 year old Ryan Kennedy, who lived in the same building as young Joanne. While being questioned by the police, Kennedy at one point snapped: "I want to take the Fifth (Amendment)." The questioning stopped. Four hours later Ryan confessed, saying he had been drinking and smoking pot on the day of the killing. Under the influence of drugs, he thought that the Harrison girl was mugging him and he stabbed her in self-defense.

In the pre-trial hearing, Kennedy’s lawyer made the point that from the time his client told the police that he wanted to use his Fifth Amendment right to say nothing that might used to proving his guilt, the officers should have read him his Miranda warnings. Moreover the attorney argued, since the police did not read the Miranda warnings to his client, and there was no other evidence that Kennedy committed the crime, the case should be dismissed. The judge agreed and Kennedy went free.

Joanne’s parents began to cry uncontrollably. All the district attorney could do was to shake his head. Finally he said, "It’s strange how things work. As a result of the Miranda decision, the Fifth Amendment, which had been created to protect the innocent, is now being used to free the guilty."





Miranda Decision

Read the description of the facts in the case of Miranda v. Arizona (1963) which appears below. Then examine two of the opinions, written by Supreme Court justices. At the end of each, indicate how convincing you thought the arguments were by circling one of the three ratings provided.

On March 13, 1963, Ernest Miranda was arrested for the kidnapping and rape of an 18 year old girl. In a lineup at the police station house, he was identified by the girl. Later, he was questioned by police officers who admitted that they did not inform Miranda of his rights to remain silent and have an attorney. Two hours later, Miranda signed a confession. At the top of the statement was a typed paragraph stating that the confession was made voluntarily and "with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me." Miranda was found guilty and sentenced to 25-30 years in prison.

Eventually, the Miranda case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue before the Court was: Were Miranda’s 5th and 6th Amendment rights denied, thereby invalidating the guilty verdict against him? The major arguments supporting and opposing Miranda’s point of view appear below:


For Miranda

We conclude that the prosecution may not use Miranda’s evidence against him. The fact that Miranda was taken to a private room only in the company of police officers leads us to suspect what took place. Any person, like Miranda, swept from familiar surroundings, subject to special techniques of persuasion may feel forced to speak.

In the future, we believe that statements made by a suspect in police custody may not be used against him, unless the following rules are followed:

1) Prior to questioning, the suspect must be informed that he has a right to remain silent;

2) That the statements that he does make may be used against him;

3) That the suspect has a right to an attorney and that one will be provided for him, if he cannot afford one; and

4) That the suspect may give up these rights, but cannot be forced to do so.

Rating: This opinion was

a) very convincing

b) some what convincing

c) not convincing


Against Miranda

Miranda’s confession was obtained during the daytime, with no signs of any use of force. The steps taken by the law enforcement authorities in Miranda are an example of fine police work. They assured a conviction in a brutal case, where there was little evidence other than the identification by the victim and the confession.

To warn the suspect that he must remain silent and remind him that his confession may be used against him makes some sense in light of the 5th and 6th Amendments. However, to insist that the suspect must sign a statement saying that he is willing give up these rights and allow the suspect to end questioning whenever he wants to stop must greatly interfere with crime fighting. And to suggest or provide an attorney for the suspect will probably lead to the end of questioning, again unfairly hurting the work of the police.


Rating: This opinion was

a) very convincing

b) some what convincing

c) not convincing




Very often people express their opinions in the form of political cartoons such as the one below. Study the cartoon. In your notebook: (1) write the opinion the cartoonist is expressing about the Supreme Court and its decisions on Constitutional rights to due process (2) discuss what opinion about the Miranda case the man in the cartoon would have and how the cartoonist would have answered him.









































p.962, Bailey 1991 American Pageant, 9th Edition. D.C. Heath & Co.: Lexington, Mass. Herblock Gallery, Simon & Schuster, 1968.