April 19, 2000
The Supreme Court reconsiders the case of Miranda rights. Gwen Ifill leads a discussion with two law enforcement officials.
IFILL: More on today's Miranda case from the perspective of the police
officers who read the rights. Joseph McNamara is the former police chief
of the city of San Jose, California. He is now a research fellow at the
Hoover Institution at Stanford University. And Gilbert Gallegos is the
former deputy police chief in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He's now president
of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Mr. McNamara, what's right and what's wrong with the Miranda rulings as they say stand... as they stand now?
|The technicalities of Miranda rights|
JOSEPH McNAMARA, Former Police Chief, San Jose: Well, I don't think there's anything wrong with Miranda now. I became a police officer before that decision, and I remember in the police academy our instructor teaching us about the constitutional rights against self-incrimination, against unlawful searches -- and in the following lesson, teaching us in police procedure, how to violate those rights. When I asked him about, it he said, 'Oh, don't worry about those rights. They're just civil rights. People can sue the city after you do that.' But the courts know what we're doing in criminal court, and if they didn't want us to do this, they wouldn't let us. Well, some years later, with a couple of decisions, the courts let the police know what the guidelines were, so the courts play an essential role in setting the limits on policing in a free society.
GWEN IFILL: What would happen if this court set limits which said the Miranda rule is not the be-all and end-all?
JOSEPH McNAMARA: I think the eventual result of that would be disastrous. Most police officers are wonderful people, but let's face it, they get their rewards for getting convictions, not for being scrupulous about obeying or protecting people's constitutional rights. And we can't depend on politicians and police chiefs because they're under pressure to project themselves as being so tough on crime. So it's really an essential role for the Supreme Court to say, "look, this is a democracy in a free society and we want good policing, but here's the limit to which the police can go."
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Gallegos, the same question to you: You've certainly had an opportunity during your career to read these rights to suspects more than once. Is there any room for change right now in the way the law stands?
GILBERT GALLEGOS, Former Deputy Police Chief, Albuquerque: Well, I think we can't take a Chicken Little approach to this and say that the sky is going to fall in and all suspects are going to be mistreated by police. Police officers now routinely give these statements about Miranda, and the key thing to remember-- and I think it's in the law, as passed by Congress-- is that all confessions must be voluntary and they must not be coerced. That practice is not going to go away.
Police officers cannot coerce, cannot violate the rights of a suspect just to get a confession. What we're saying is that the court, the judge and the jury should be able to make those decisions on those particular cases -- in those cases where there are technical questions regarding Miranda. And that is what we're supporting. I think Miranda, as far as I see it, is well-practiced around the country, and I don't see that officers are going to routinely violate the rights of people just to get confessions, and I disagree with Chief McNamara that police officers are not rewarded for convictions; they're rewarded for conducting investigations, they turn them over to the prosecutor. And it's up to the prosecutor to prosecute the case. So there are no rewards and no demerits for police officers for convictions.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Gallegos, the folks at the court today were arguing, who say the Miranda should be changed, were arguing that police are actually hamstrung or that justice itself is hamstrung by technicalities. Do you agree with that?
GILBERT GALLEGOS: I certainly do and there have been instances where suspects have blurted out statements even before the officer was able to give them the Miranda rights. And it is not the obligation of the officer to interrupt the suspect when they are making an overt confession without questioning or when they're not in custody. And there have been situations where those cases have been thrown out. And I think that's that that that's a technical issue that must be addressed by the court. And what we're saying is let the judge make the decision. And even under Miranda, when those rights are given, if a right is violated of the suspect or the suspect gives a coerced statement, it's still thrown out even though you gave Miranda. So --
|The process of getting a confession|
GWEN IFILL: Excuse me. Mr. McNamara, I'd like to get back to you and ask you about this issue of coerced confessions. Those of us who watch cop shows on television, this is one of those rare Supreme Court cases where we think we know what really happens. Does it really happen? What is a coerced confession really and what is a voluntary confession?
McNAMARA: Well, one thing you have to remember, the police themselves,
when they're suspected of a crime and the Fraternal of Order of Police
demand that the police officers get the Miranda warnings and have the
right to an attorney. There's nothing wrong with that. And in fact they
go a step further and say, 'Even if it's not a criminal matter, they
want those kind of Miranda warnings given for disciplinary matters.'
So why should people not get the same rights that the police themselves
think are important?
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Gallegos, both you and Mr. McNamara are arguing that there is often unintended negative effect as a result surrounding this law. Can you give me examples in your argument about where there have been unintended negative effects, which have adversely affected the administration of justice?
GILBERT GALLEGOS: Well, I think the chief's assertion that the suspects are poor and they're afraid and they're scared and they're being intimidated by the police is totally wrong because most suspects who are interviewed and who are involved in serious crime had history with the police, and that's the case in Dickerson, who's well-versed with the criminal justice system. So for them to be portrayed as, oh, poor people that are being interrogated and hammered by the police into giving a confession is totally wrong. And I want to clear up an assertion that the chief made as regards to what the Fraternal Order of Police believes should be the rights given to police officers. If the officers are given the rights under Miranda, if they're a criminal suspect, then that's the proper thing to do. We do not demand, nor do we ask for Miranda warnings in disciplinary hearings. Those are administrative, and those are not requested. So obviously, he's given the wrong information.
GWEN IFILL: I want Mr. McNamara to respond to, that but I do want to repeat my question briefly, which is: Do you think that there is a wide-spread evidence of unintended negative effect because Miranda encourages people who are suspects to get off on technicalities because it's not considered a voluntary confession?
GILBERT GALLEGOS: My experience has been is that there are suspects who do get off. I've seen cases. There have been cases that were presented to the Judiciary Committee of the Senate, very explicitly detailing what those cases were. There have been cases that were outlined by Mr. Cassell, as far as the cases that were dismissed and the victims were left without a solution to their crime because a suspect was able to get off. So there's a lot of anecdotal information out there that says that, in some cases, technicalities cause people who are actually guilty to get off on cram crime.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. McNamara, the flip side that have question to you.
JOSEPH McNAMARA: Well, first of all, no one's more sophisticated about police methods than the police, but they want those Miranda warnings. And here in California, they do have to get them for disciplinary matters, and there's a bill in Congress for the past three years that would make that a national requirement, and it's been supported by police labor groups and by with a number of police groups. So I wouldn't deny that maybe there are times when an individual person may get away because he gets the Miranda warnings and exercises his constitutional rights. But most of the time, from 80 percent to 90 percent of the time, the people waive those rights anyway. And I don't think we can make the case that it's okay to violate the constitutional rights that we possess because someone who's guilty may get away occasionally with a crime.
GWEN IFILL: And that's of course exactly what the Supreme Court will decide, whether this is a constitutional right or not. Mr. McNamara, Mr. Gallegos, thank you both very much.
GILBERT GALLEGOS: Thank you.