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New research from U professors asserts 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to the creation of Miranda rights may today impede law enforcement’s ability to solve crimes.

By Melinda Rogers, media relations manager, S.J. Quinney College of Law

Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a historic decision in Miranda vs. Arizona — which determined that criminal suspects must be informed of their constitutional right to an attorney prior to police questioning — a pair of University of Utah researchers have found in a new analysis that the 1966 ruling today harms law enforcement’s ability to solve crimes.

In research just released in The Boston University Law Review, S.J. Quinney College of Law presidential professor Paul Cassell, along with researcher Richard Fowles, a professor in the U’s Department of Economics, found that Miranda requirements reduced police effectiveness by hindering law enforcement’s ability to solve cases because of restrictive procedures.

The researchers, who published an earlier report in 1998 in the Stanford Law Review, updated their original findings in a new report titled “Still Handcuffing the Cops?” They analyzed the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s crime clearance rate data from 1950 to 2012 — data which shows a dramatic reduction in law enforcement’s ability to “clear” or solve crimes immediately after the Miranda decision.

The premise of the research focused on whether the predictions of Miranda’s four dissenters — who voiced concern in the 1966 opinion over whether police effectiveness would be reduced because of the procedural requirements of Miranda — are today true, nearly 50 years after the original decision. Justice Byron White, for example, predicted that in “some unknown cases, the Court’s rule will return a killer, rapist or other criminal to the streets and to the environment which produce him, to repeat his crimes whenever it pleases him.” Nationally, the effectiveness of Miranda has been debated over the past year, as the nation again observed the ruling’s anniversary.

The statistical analysis by Cassell and Fowles shows that, for some important crime categories, the dissenters’ concerns were warranted.

“Our regression equations suggest that the Miranda requirements prevented police from solving more than 200,000 violent crimes and 900,000 property crimes in recent years, with particularly harmful effects on police efforts to solve robbery, larceny and vehicle theft crimes,” Cassell and Fowles said. “The equations control for potentially confounding variables — such as rising crime rates, changes in law enforcement presence or economic downturns — and suggest that about 20 percent more violent crimes and 11.6 percent more property crimes would be solved each year without the Miranda requirements.  Given the tremendous costs that criminals impose on their victims, these number suggest that it is important to search for less onerous ways of restricting police questioning.”

Cassell and Fowles noted the research also suggests that the harmful effects do not stem from the well-known “you have the right to remain silent” Miranda warnings, but rather from Miranda’s lesser-known procedural requirements. For example, the Miranda procedures  generally prevent police from questioning a suspect in custody unless he or she agrees to be questioned.  Such requirements could be replaced by a requirement that police videotape questioning, a change Cassell and Fowles believe could result in a “win-win” solution that would not only allow police to obtain more voluntary confessions from suspects but also provide safeguards against false confessions or inappropriate police pressure.

“Our findings certainly call into question the general academic belief that Miranda has not hampered law enforcement,” Cassell and Fowles wrote in the research’s concluding paragraphs.

“If Miranda has harmed law enforcement, extremely difficult questions arise for Miranda’s defenders … what is the metric that explains how a victim’s pain when a criminal escapes justice is outweighed by the benefit of giving that criminal the power to stop questioning?”

Cassell and Fowles plan to continue working together in the future, bringing together Cassell’s criminal law experience (as a former federal prosecutor, federal judge, and crime victims’ rights advocate) and Fowles’ econometric prowess to better understand controversial criminal law issues.