Foreword By Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona
Table of Contents
  Miranda's Confession
  Right to Counsel
  Privilege Against Self-Incrimination
  Miranda and the Arizona Supreme Court
  Birth of the Miranda Warnings
  John Frank as Architect of the Miranda Doctrine
  John Flynn's Oral  Argument at the Supreme Court
  Gary Nelson's Oral Argument for Arizona
  Thurgood Marshall's Oral  Argument at the Supreme Court
  The Opinion
  The Miranda Warnings
  The Ongoing Debate
  The Dickerson Case
  Miranda's Global Reach

Miranda and the al Qaeda Terror

  Padilla and Hamdi
  False Confessions and the Tuscson Four
  Political Ideology and the Supreme Court
  Dickerson's Legacy
  Gideon's Legacy
  The Evolution of Miranda


from Chapter 6

The Dickerson Case

Excerpts from pages 108-124

The FBI [having information that Charles Dickerson may have been involved in a bank robbery] went to Dickerson’s apartment on January 27, 1999.  They entered the apartment without a warrant and without Dickerson’s consent. The agents asked Dickerson to accompany them to the FBI field office in Washington, D.C. Upon reaching the office, the agents interviewed Dickerson but did not him of his Miranda rights prior to the interrogation. Dickerson admitted to driving his Oldsmobile Ciera in the general vicinity of the bank robbery on the morning of January 24 but denied any knowledge of a bank robbery.

When told that his apartment was being searched. Dickerson decided to make a supplemental statement.  After receiving his written statement, the FBI advised Dickerson of his Miranda rights. Dickerson signed a standard FBI rights waiver form and he was then placed under formal arrest.  After Dickerson was charged with one count of conspiracy to rob a bank and three counts of using a gun during a bank robbery, Dickerson’s lawyers filed a motion to suppress the confession he had made shortly after his arrest. On July 1, 1997, the district court issued an Order and Memorandum Opinion suppressing Dickerson’s statements because he had not been advised of his Miranda rights until after he had completed his statement.

Federal prosecutors did not argue that Dickerson’s statement was admissible under 18 USCA 3501. The federal statute (for ease of reference called “Section 3501”) was a political response to the 1966 Miranda decision. It had been passed by the U.S. Congress “with the clear intent of restoring voluntariness as a test for admitting confessions in federal court. Although duly enacted by the United States Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States, the United States Department of Justice has steadfastly refused to enforce the provision.” Dickerson’s defense lawyers at the trial court level did not brief or argue 18 USCA 3501 either.

The pivotal section of Section 3501 says, “A confession . . . shall be admissible in evidence if it is voluntarily given.” No one disputes that Congress enacted Section 3501 as part of the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968, with the express purpose of legislatively overruling Miranda and restoring voluntariness as the test for admitting confessions in federal courts.  [Section 3501] was on the books for thirty-two years and six executive branch administrations, during which time the Supreme Court never once considered whether Section 3501 overruled Miranda. No one ever pressed the question of whether Miranda or Section 3501 governed the admissibility of confessions in federal court. In fact, Justice Antonin Scalia, in 1994, noted that Section 3501 “has been studiously avoided by every Administration . . . since its inception 25 years ago.”

Every prosecutor and every court simply ignored Congress’s political attempt to overrule a constitutional decision of the United States Supreme Court until Attorney General Janet Reno wrote a letter to Congress in 1997, asserting that Section 3501 was “unconstitutional.” Justice Scalia, on the other hand, expressed his concern with the Department of Justice’s failure to enforce Section 3501. “In addition to causing the federal judiciary to confront a host of ‘Miranda’ issues that might be entirely irrelevant under federal law,” he wrote, “the Department of Justice’s failure to invoke the provision may have produced - during an era of intense national concern about the problem of run-away crime - the acquittal and the non-prosecution of many dangerous felons.”

The constitutional question of whether Section 3501 or Miranda controlled the admissibility of confessions in federal courts was raised sua sponte (“on the court’s own volition”) by the Fourth Circuit. The mere fact that this question was raised sua sponte is salient. Neither side had raised any constitutional issue at all, not to mention the question of why a federal statute was never used by state or federal prosecutors. 

Dickerson’s case resulted in a full review of Miranda. Nearly all of the arguments made by the Dickerson opposing Miranda were based on the premise that it was not constitutionally required. First and foremost of the factors on the side contending that Miranda was a constitutional decision was the observation that both Miranda and two of its companion cases had applied the rule in state courts, and since 1966, the Court had consistently applied Miranda’s rule to prosecutions arising in state courts. The Rehnquist Court acknowledged that there was language in some of its opinions that could support the opposing argument. However, the Court obviously wished to disabuse all who might continue to foster that notion.

Accordingly, the United States Supreme Court resolved the thirty-four-year debate over Miranda’s fate, specifying in its core holding that certain warnings must be given before a suspect’s statement made during custodial interrogation could be admitted into evidence. The opinion also dealt with the congressional response to Miranda in 18 USC 3501. Chief Justice Rehnquist, joined in the opinion by six other justices, with Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting, delivered the opinion on June 25, 2000, the crucial holding of which is as follows:

We hold that Miranda, being a constitutional decision of this Court, may not be in effect overruled by an Act of Congress, and we decline to overrule Miranda ourselves. We therefore hold that Miranda and its progeny in this Court govern the admissibility of statements made during custodial interrogation in both state and federal courts.

The Dickerson opinion is a history lesson (citing cases from the King’s Bench in England in the sixteenth century, a primer on constitutional law (citing constitutional law precedents from 1884 through 1936, and a shining example of judicial rhetoric (“custodial interrogation takes a heavy toll on individual liberty and trades on the weakness of individuals”).

With respect to proceedings in state courts, the Supreme Court’s authority is limited to enforcing the commands of the United States Constitution. The Miranda opinion itself had begun by stating that the Court granted certiorari to explore some facets of the problems of applying the privilege of self-incrimination to in-custody interrogation and to give concrete constitutional guidelines for law enforcement agencies and courts to follow. Indeed, the Court’s conclusion in Dickerson was that the unwarned confessions obtained in the four cases before the Court in Miranda “were obtained from the defendant under circumstances that did not meet constitutional standards for protection of the privilege.”

The most compelling aspect of the Dickerson decision, irrespective of judicial ideology or the political persuasion of the moment, is that it relies on the same underlying values as Miranda, values that so bitterly separated the civil libertarians from the law enforcement community for three decades. “We need not go farther than Miranda to decide this case,” the Dickerson opinion states. And furthermore:

In Miranda, the Court noted that reliance on the traditional totality-of-the-circumstances test raised a risk of overlooking an involuntary custodial confession. [That is] a risk that the Court found unacceptably great when the confession is offered in the case in chief to prove guilt. The Court therefore concluded that something more than the totality test was necessary. Section 3501 reinstates the totality test as sufficient. Section 3501 therefore cannot be sustained if Miranda is to remain law.

“In sum,” closed the Dickerson opinion, “we conclude that Miranda announced a constitutional rule that Congress may not supersede legislatively. Following the rule of stare decisis, we decline to overrule Miranda ourselves.”


Miranda: The Story of America's Right to Remain Silent
Copyright © 2004, Gary L. Stuart. All rights reserved.
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page last revised: 10/25/04