United States v. Dickerson

United States Supreme Court

520 U.S. 428, 120 S.Ct. 2326, 147 L.Ed.2d 405 (2000)

 

            In this case the Supreme Court reconsiders its 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona in light of a federal statute that contradicts that decision.

 

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

 

            In Miranda v. Arizona … (1966), we held that certain warnings must be given before a suspect’s statement made during custodial interrogation could be admitted in evidence. In the wake of that decision, Congress enacted 18 U. S. C. §3501, which in essence laid down a rule that the admissibility of such statements should turn only on whether or not they were voluntarily made. 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.

 

            Petitioner Dickerson was indicted for bank robbery, conspiracy to commit bank robbery, and using a firearm in the course of committing a crime of violence, all in violation of the applicable provisions of Title 18 of the United States Code. Before trial, Dickerson moved to suppress a statement he had made at a Federal Bureau of Investigation field office, on the grounds that he had not received “Miranda warnings” before being interrogated. The District Court granted his motion to suppress, and the Government took an interlocutory appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. That court, by a divided vote, reversed the District Court’s suppression order. It agreed with the District Court’s conclusion that petitioner had not received Miranda warnings before making his statement. But it went on to hold that §3501, which in effect makes the admissibility of statements such as Dickerson’s turn solely on whether they were made voluntarily, was satisfied in this case. It then concluded that our decision in Miranda was not a constitutional holding, and that therefore Congress could by statute have the final say on the question of admissibility. …

 

Because of the importance of the questions raised by the Court of Appeals’ decision, we granted certiorari … and now reverse. …

           

Two years after Miranda was decided, Congress enacted §3501. That section provides, in relevant part:

 

(a) In any criminal prosecution brought by the United States or by the District of Columbia, a confession ... shall be admissible in evidence if it is voluntarily given. Before such confession is received in evidence, the trial judge shall, out of the presence of the jury, determine any issue as to voluntariness. If the trial judge determines that the confession was voluntarily made it shall be admitted in evidence and the trial judge shall permit the jury to hear relevant evidence on the issue of voluntariness and shall instruct the jury to give such weight to the confession as the jury feels it deserves under all the circumstances.

 

(b) The trial judge in determining the issue of voluntariness shall take into consideration all the circumstances surrounding the giving of the confession, including (1) the time elapsing between arrest and arraignment of the defendant making the confession, if it was made after arrest and before arraignment, (2) whether such defendant knew the nature of the offense with which he was charged or of which he was suspected at the time of making the confession, (3) whether or not such defendant was advised or knew that he was not required to make any statement and that any such statement could be used against him, (4) whether or not such defendant had been advised prior to questioning of his right to the assistance of counsel; and (5) whether or not such defendant was without the assistance of counsel when questioned and when giving such confession. …

           

            Given §3501’s express designation of voluntariness as the touchstone of admissibility, its omission of any warning requirement, and the instruction for trial courts to consider a nonexclusive list of factors relevant to the circumstances of a confession, we agree with the Court of Appeals that Congress intended by its enactment to overrule Miranda. … Because of the obvious conflict between our decision in Miranda and §3501, we must address whether Congress has constitutional authority to thus supersede Miranda. If Congress has such authority, §3501’s totality-of-the-circumstances approach must prevail over Miranda’s requirement of warnings; if not, that section must yield to Miranda’s more specific requirements.

 

            The law in this area is clear. This Court has supervisory authority over the federal courts, and we may use that authority to prescribe rules of evidence and procedure that are binding in those tribunals. … However, the power to judicially create and enforce nonconstitutional “rules of procedure and evidence for the federal courts exists only in the absence of a relevant Act of Congress.” … Congress retains the ultimate authority to modify or set aside any judicially created rules of evidence and procedure that are not required by the Constitution….

 

            But Congress may not legislatively supersede our decisions interpreting and applying the Constitution. … This case therefore turns on whether the Miranda Court announced a constitutional rule or merely exercised its supervisory authority to regulate evidence in the absence of congressional direction. Recognizing this point, the Court of Appeals surveyed Miranda and its progeny to determine the constitutional status of the Miranda decision. … Relying on the fact that we have created several exceptions to Miranda’s warnings requirement and that we have repeatedly referred to the Miranda warnings as “prophylactic,” … the Court of Appeals concluded that the protections announced in Miranda are not constitutionally required….

 

            We disagree with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion, although we concede that there is language in some of our opinions that supports the view taken by that court. But first and foremost of the factors on the other side--that Miranda is a constitutional decision--is that both Miranda and two of its companion cases applied the rule to proceedings in state courts--to wit, Arizona, California, and New York. … Since that time, we have consistently applied Miranda’s rule to prosecutions arising in state courts. … It is beyond dispute that we do not hold a supervisory power over the courts of the several States. With respect to proceedings in state courts, our “authority is limited to enforcing the commands of the United States Constitution.”…

 

            The Miranda opinion itself begins by stating that the Court granted certiorari “to explore some facets of the problems ... of applying the privilege against self-incrimination to in-custody interrogation, and to give concrete constitutional guidelines for law enforcement agencies and courts to follow” (emphasis added). In fact, the majority opinion is replete with statements indicating that the majority thought it was announcing a constitutional rule. Indeed, the Court’s ultimate conclusion 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.”

 

            Additional support for our conclusion that Miranda is constitutionally based is found in the Miranda Court’s invitation for legislative action to protect the constitutional right against coerced self-incrimination. After discussing the “compelling pressures” inherent in custodial police interrogation, the Miranda Court concluded that, “[i]n order to combat these pressures and to permit a full opportunity to exercise the privilege against self-incrimination, the accused must be adequately and effectively appraised of his rights and the exercise of those rights must be fully honored.” … However, the Court emphasized that it could not foresee “the potential alternatives for protecting the privilege which might be devised by Congress or the States,” and it accordingly opined that the Constitution would not preclude legislative solutions that differed from the prescribed Miranda warnings but which were “at least as effective in apprising accused persons of their right of silence and in assuring a continuous opportunity to exercise it.”…

 

            The Court of Appeals also relied on the fact that we have, after our Miranda decision, made exceptions from its rule in cases such as New York v. Quarles (1984), and Harris v. New York (1971). … But we have also broadened the application of the Miranda doctrine in cases such as Doyle v. Ohio (1976), and Arizona v. Roberson (1988). These decisions illustrate the principle--not that Miranda is not a constitutional rule--but that no constitutional rule is immutable. No court laying down a general rule can possibly foresee the various circumstances in which counsel will seek to apply it, and the sort of modifications represented by these cases are as much a normal part of constitutional law as the original decision. …

 

            As an alternative argument for sustaining the Court of Appeals’ decision, the court-invited amicus curiae contends that the section complies with the requirement that a legislative alternative to Miranda be equally as effective in preventing coerced confessions. … We agree with the amicus’ contention that there are more remedies available for abusive police conduct than there were at the time Miranda was decided, … to hold that a suspect may bring a federal cause of action under the Due Process Clause for police misconduct during custodial interrogation). But we do not agree that these additional measures supplement §3501’s protections sufficiently to meet the constitutional minimum. Miranda requires procedures that will warn a suspect in custody of his right to remain silent and which will assure the suspect that the exercise of that right will be honored. … As discussed above, §3501 explicitly eschews a requirement of pre-interrogation warnings in favor of an approach that looks to the administration of such warnings as only one factor in determining the voluntariness of a suspect’s confession. The additional remedies cited by amicus do not, in our view, render them, together with §3501 an adequate substitute for the warnings required by Miranda.

 

            The dissent argues that it is judicial overreaching for this Court to hold §3501 unconstitutional unless we hold that the Miranda warnings are required by the Constitution, in the sense that nothing else will suffice to satisfy constitutional requirements. … But we need not go farther than Miranda to decide this case. In Miranda, the Court noted that reliance on the traditional totality-of-the-circumstances test raised a risk of overlooking an involuntary custodial confession, … 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. … As discussed above, §3501 reinstates the totality test as sufficient. Section 3501 therefore cannot be sustained if Miranda is to remain the law.

 

            Whether or not we would agree with Miranda’s reasoning and its resulting rule, were we addressing the issue in the first instance, the principles of stare decisis weigh heavily against overruling it now. …

 

            Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture. … While we have overruled our precedents when subsequent cases have undermined their doctrinal underpinnings, … we do not believe that this has happened to the Miranda decision. If anything, our subsequent cases have reduced the impact of the Miranda rule on legitimate law enforcement while reaffirming the decision’s core ruling that unwarned statements may not be used as evidence in the prosecution’s case in chief.

 

            The disadvantage of the Miranda rule is that statements which may be by no means involuntary, made by a defendant who is aware of his “rights,” may nonetheless be excluded and a guilty defendant go free as a result. But experience suggests that the totality-of-the-circumstances test which §3501 seeks to revive is more difficult than Miranda for law enforcement officers to conform to, and for courts to apply in a consistent manner. … The requirement that Miranda warnings be given does not, of course, dispense with the voluntariness inquiry. But as we said in Berkemer v. McCarty (1984), “[c]ases in which a defendant can make a colorable argument that a self-incriminating statement was ‘compelled’ despite the fact that the law enforcement authorities adhered to the dictates of Miranda are rare.”…

 

            In sum, 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. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore Reversed.

 

 

Justice Scalia, with whom Justice Thomas joins, dissenting.

 

            Those to whom judicial decisions are an unconnected series of judgments that produce either favored or disfavored results will doubtless greet today’s decision as a paragon of moderation, since it declines to overrule Miranda v. Arizona (1966). Those who understand the judicial process will appreciate that today’s decision is not a reaffirmation of Miranda, but a radical revision of the most significant element of Miranda (as of all cases): the rationale that gives it a permanent place in our jurisprudence.

 

            Marbury v. Madison held that an Act of Congress will not be enforced by the courts if what it prescribes violates the Constitution of the United States. That was the basis on which Miranda was decided. One will search today’s opinion in vain, however, for a statement (surely simple enough to make) that what 18 U. S. C. §3501 prescribes--the use at trial of a voluntary confession, even when a Miranda warning or its equivalent has failed to be given--violates the Constitution. The reason the statement does not appear is not only (and perhaps not so much) that it would be absurd, inasmuch as §3501 excludes from trial precisely what the Constitution excludes from trial, viz., compelled confessions; but also that Justices whose votes are needed to compose today’s majority are on record as believing that a violation of Miranda is not a violation of the Constitution. … And so, to justify today’s agreed-upon result, the Court must adopt a significant new, if not entirely comprehensible, principle of constitutional law. As the Court chooses to describe that principle, statutes of Congress can be disregarded, not only when what they prescribe violates the Constitution, but when what they prescribe contradicts a decision of this Court that “announced a constitutional rule.”… As I shall discuss in some detail, the only thing that can possibly mean in the context of this case is that this Court has the power, not merely to apply the Constitution but to expand it, imposing what it regards as useful “prophylactic” restrictions upon Congress and the States. That is an immense and frightening antidemocratic power, and it does not exist.

 

            It takes only a small step to bring today’s opinion out of the realm of power-judging and into the mainstream of legal reasoning: The Court need only go beyond its carefully couched iterations that “Miranda is a constitutional decision,” … that “Miranda is constitutionally based,” … that Miranda has “constitutional underpinnings,” … and come out and say quite clearly: “We reaffirm today that custodial interrogation that is not preceded by Miranda warnings or their equivalent violates the Constitution of the United States.” It cannot say that, because a majority of the Court does not believe it. The Court therefore acts in plain violation of the Constitution when it denies effect to this Act of Congress. …

 

…[W]hile I agree with the Court that §3501 cannot be upheld without also concluding that Miranda represents an illegitimate exercise of our authority to review state-court judgments, I do not share the Court’s hesitation in reaching that conclusion. For while the Court is also correct that the doctrine of stare decisis demands some “special justification” for a departure from longstanding precedent--even precedent of the constitutional variety--that criterion is more than met here.

           

            Neither am I persuaded by the argument for retaining Miranda that touts its supposed workability as compared with the totality-of-the-circumstances test it purported to replace. Miranda’s proponents cite ad nauseam the fact that the Court was called upon to make difficult and subtle distinctions in applying the “voluntariness” test in some 30-odd due process “coerced confessions” cases in the 30 years between Brown v. Mississippi (1936), and Miranda. It is not immediately apparent, however, that the judicial burden has been eased by the “bright-line” rules adopted in Miranda. In fact, in the 34 years since Miranda was decided, this Court has been called upon to decide nearly 60 cases involving a host of Miranda issues, most of them predicted with remarkable prescience by Justice White in his Miranda dissent. …

           

            Moreover, it is not clear why the Court thinks that the “totality-of-the-circumstances test ... is more difficult than Miranda for law enforcement officers to conform to, and for courts to apply in a consistent manner.” …

           

            But even were I to agree that the old totality-of-the-circumstances test was more cumbersome, it is simply not true that Miranda has banished it from the law and replaced it with a new test. Under the current regime, which the Court today retains in its entirety, courts are frequently called upon to undertake both inquiries. That is because, as explained earlier, voluntariness remains the constitutional standard, and as such continues to govern the admissibility for impeachment purposes of statements taken in violation of Miranda, the admissibility of the “fruits” of such statements, and the admissibility of statements challenged as unconstitutionally obtained despite the interrogator’s compliance with Miranda. …

           

            Finally, I am not convinced by petitioner’s argument that Miranda should be preserved because the decision occupies a special place in the “public’s consciousness.” … As far as I am aware, the public is not under the illusion that we are infallible. I see little harm in admitting that we made a mistake in taking away from the people the ability to decide for themselves what protections (beyond those required by the Constitution) are reasonably affordable in the criminal investigatory process. And I see much to be gained by reaffirming for the people the wonderful reality that they govern themselves--which means that “[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution” that the people adopted, “nor prohibited ... to the States” by that Constitution, “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” …

           

            Today’s judgment converts Miranda from a milestone of judicial overreaching into the very Cheops’ Pyramid (or perhaps the Sphinx would be a better analogue) of judicial arrogance. In imposing its Court-made code upon the States, the original opinion at least asserted that it was demanded by the Constitution. Today’s decision does not pretend that it is--and yet still asserts the right to impose it against the will of the people’s representatives in Congress. Far from believing that stare decisis compels this result, I believe we cannot allow to remain on the books even a celebrated decision--especially a celebrated decision--that has come to stand for the proposition that the Supreme Court has power to impose extra-constitutional constraints upon Congress and the States. This is not the system that was established by the Framers, or that would be established by any sane supporter of government by the people.

 

            I dissent from today’s decision, and, until §3501 is repealed, will continue to apply it in all cases where there has been a sustainable finding that the defendant’s confession was voluntary.