Earl Warren was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court between 1953 and 1969. He presided over the Court’s criminal law revolution, which lasted between 1961 and 1969. Most people, including Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, who appointed Warren, thought he would lead the Court in the other direction. Boy, were they wrong.
Warren’s background gave people every reason to believe he would continue the Court’s conservative ways. After several years as the Alameda County district attorney, the lifelong Republican became California’s Attorney General in 1938. He became governor in 1942, a position he held for a still-record three terms. Following his failed 1952 presidential bid, Eisenhower appointed Warren to the Supreme Court, telling a friend “He has been very definitely a liberal-conservative; he represents the kind of political, economic, and social thinking that I believe we need on the Supreme Court.”
Why did Warren suddenly switch sides? As Eisenhower indicated, by 1952, Warren’s conservative commitment was fading, perhaps because of the McCarthyism in the Republican Party at the time. Furthermore, he was Eisenhower’s third choice, which might have made him feel slighted. Finally, liberal Associate Justice William Brennan might have influenced Warren, making his journey toward the Dark Side complete.
The cases listed below are very important. But they’re only ink on paper unless a Marietta criminal defense lawyer enforces them. Many conservative judges are eager to distinguish, or even ignore, these cases if they can. In this environment, an attorney helps ensure that everyone, regardless of background, gets a fair trial.
Mapp v. Ohio (1961)
The facts of this 1961 case are eerily similar to a 2001 case. Officers burst into Dolly Mapp’s Ohio home, even though they didn’t have a warrant, claiming that she was harboring a bomber. The cops didn’t find any trace of a bomber, but they did find obscene pornographic pictures in a trunk. Mapp claimed the photos were inadmissible, even though at the time, the Fourth Amendment only applied to federal law enforcement agencies.
The Court ruled the police illegally seized the pictures, since they didn’t have a warrant. The Court went one step further and ruled that the improperly seized evidence was inadmissible at trial (the exclusionary rule). Mapp was the beginning of the end for officially sanctioned reckless law enforcement.
In later cases, which we won’t detail in this article, the Court backed off this extreme position. It ruled that some search warrant requirement exceptions, such as owner consent, could bypass the exclusionary rule. As another side note, even if the officers had a warrant, they probably couldn’t look in a trunk, unless it was large enough to hide a man.
Escobedo v. Illinois (1964)
Danny Escobedo was a murder suspect. The police picked him up but released him due to a lack of evidence. Another suspect, who was in police custody, implicated Escobedo, so the police picked him up again. They grilled Escobedo for over fourteen hours and denied Escobedo’s repeated requests to speak with an attorney. He eventually cracked and appealed his conviction based on a Sixth Amendment denial of counsel.
Prosecutors argued that Escobedo, although in custody, wasn’t under arrest, so his right to counsel didn’t apply. The Supreme Court didn’t buy that argument and reversed the conviction.
Escobedo, like other defendants on this list, wasn’t an “innocent” man. In the years following the 1964 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, Escobedo received 12 felony convictions, including indecency with a child. While free on an appeal bond with respect to those charges, Escobedo pleaded guilty to attempted murder, and he was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
In many ways, Miranda basically reaffirmed Escobedo and confirmed the fact that the 1964 case wasn’t just a one-off aberration. Phoenix police officers picked up Ernesto Miranda on suspicion of raping an 18-year-old girl. He signed a confession after a two-hour interrogation, never having been apprised of his right to remain silent or his right to counsel.
The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the admissibility of the confession and his conviction, mostly because he didn’t ask for a lawyer. Remember that rationale.
Most people know how this case ended in the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Warren put law enforcement on a very short leash. He ruled that the confession was coerced and that, going forward, law enforcement officers must inform defendants of their right to remain silent and a few other core liberties.
Most people don’t know what happened to Ernesto Miranda. Prosecutors re-tried him without the confession. He was convicted, sent to prison, and paroled in 1972. He moved back to his old neighborhood and sold Miranda warning cards to local police officers. He was fatally stabbed in a bar fight in 1976. No one was ever charged with that crime.
The “he didn’t ask for a lawyer” rationale that swayed the Arizona Supreme Court and four Supreme Court justices resurfaced fifty years later, in Berghuis v. Thompkins. This time, a majority ruled that, unless defendants expressly ask for lawyers, they waive that right.
Terry v. Ohio (1968)
The aforementioned cases limited criminal prosecutions. Police officers can still conduct warrantless searches and coerce confessions. This evidence just isn’t admissible at trial, if a Marietta criminal defense lawyer properly objects.
Terry was one of the few exceptions to the criminal law revolutionary wave. This case was a resounding win for the state.
Cleveland police officers believed, based on Terry’s actions and their experience, that he planned to rob a downtown store. Officers stopped him, told him to “assume the position,” and confiscated a pistol. Terry was convicted for illegally carrying a concealed weapon. The Supreme Court upheld that conviction and the “stop and frisk” policy, as long as officers had reasonable suspicion, which is basically an evidence-based hunch, of criminal activity.
Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)
We end this post with a case many people overlook. But the case makes a very important statement about juvenile rights in criminal cases.
In late 1965, five Des Moines teenagers, four from the Tinker family, planned to wear black armbands to class in protest of the Vietnam War. School officials somehow learned about the plan and quickly passed a no-armband rule. The kids wore the armbands, and even though no one else seemed to care, school officials suspended three of them.
The majority of Justices basically ruled that children have the same Constitutional rights as adults. Subsequent cases, such as Bethel School District v. Fraser and Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, watered down some aspects of this ruling. But the principle still stands.
We believe that all citizens should be aware of their civil rights. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.