By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
One of the issues that cropped up recently in the ‘personality clash” between Tony Lawal and Sam Cooper, two businessmen is the issue of Miranda Rights. Someone who did not understand that, the other day asked what was meant, as there was nothing in the Liberian Constitution that mentioned about those rights. He said sometimes police report would say that the person (accused) was Miranda. I began to educate the person that Miranda rights is synonymous to the Due process of law or the rule of law, to making sure that the rights of people who are accused are not violated.
Because of the importance of this, which I believe some of our officers or security personnel may not be aware of or are aware, but fail to abide by this, I decided to throw light on it to serve as a guide to investigators, especially those charged with criminal offences. In short, this Miranda Rights is all geared towards avoiding or controlling the “misconduct’ of security officers charged with investigating suspects or the accused. This misconduct would be torturing or forcing suspects or accused of engaging in self-incrimination.
Sometimes it is distasteful that whenever someone is accused of committing an act forbidden by law, people think that because of that “mere allegation” the person has no rights to be respected. Even with a provision in this country’s Constitution that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, some of those who carry out investigations are accused of adjudging people guilty on mere allegations and mal-handle or mistreat them. In some instances those accused are forced to confess or criminate themselves to avoid continuous tortures.
HOW DID THE NAME COME ABOUT?
Indisputably, the word “Miranda” may be strange to those who are out of criminal justice system or the legal profession. This word came about as a result of a case in Arizona in the United Statesof America many years ago. It was dubbed: “Miranda Vs. Arizon, which has become a very important reference in the legal profession. Principally, as stated earlier, it serves to remind investigators about the rights of accused. It is unfortunate that sometimes investigators would indulge in acts that completely violate the rights of persons accused of a crime.
In a nutshell, the name, MIRANDA, according to research, came about involving one Ernesto Miranda and the State of Arizona. “Ernesto was accused of kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old girl near Phoenix, Arizona. The girl claimed she was on her way home from work when a man grabbed her, threw her into the back seat of a car, and raped her. Ten days later Miranda was arrested, placed in a lineup, and identified by the girl as her attacker. The police then took Miranda into an interrogation room and questioned him for two hours. At the end of the two hours, the officers emerged with a written and signed confession. That confession was used as evidence at trial, and Miranda was found guilty.
The brief or synopsis on the case went on to say that after the lower court’s guilty verdict, Miranda later appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he had not been warned of his right to remain silent, and that he had been deprived of his right to counsel. Miranda did not suggest that his confession was false or brought about by coercion, but rather that he would not have confessed if he had been advised of his right to remain silent and of his right to an attorney.
Upon hearing arguments in the case the U.S. Supreme Court in 1965 ruled that Miranda’s confession could not be used at trial because it was obtained without informing him of his constitutional rights.
Basically, one may ask: What were the Miranda warnings, which MUST have been respected by investigators. The warnings state that an accused MUST be informed about states that an accused or suspect has the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court; have the right to a lawyer and to have one present while you are being questioned and must be informed if he or she cannot afford a lawyer then one will be appointed for you before any questioning begins.
These are the basic rights of people who have been accused of committing a crime. Crime, as it is known, is anything that is forbidden by law; it would be through omission or commission. “Omission” is the failure to do something, thus resulting to something forbidden by law. This could be negligence when there is a duty to act. Commission is “the act of doing or perpetrating (a crime).”
First, to simply elaborate on these warnings, they are saying that whenever one is accused, it is imperative on investigators to always inform the person that they are not forced to make any statement or comment on the alleged crime or reason for which such person has been invited because anything the person says could be used against him in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Second, it says that an accused should also be informed that he or she has a right to a lawyer and that the lawyer must be present while the investigation is going on, to avoid making self-incriminatory statements or comments to one’s own detriment.
Third, in case, if san accused cannot afford a lawyer, it is necessary for a lawyer to be appointed to represent the accused. Thank God, in Liberia today, the country has public defenders that handle such person’s interest or represent them.
The reasons why it is necessary to adhere to these warnings in investigation is that failure to do so, could possibly leave one to losing a case in court, as that could leave the defense to invoking what is known as the “EXCLUSIONARY RULE.”Soundly to say, many lawyers, especially on the defense, knowing that the Miranda warnings were to be adhered to by state investigators, thus violating the rights of accused, always invoke this rule to exclude evidence gathered, in violation of the Miranda warnings. This may result to a motion to “suppress evidence” to the court by the defense.
Sadly to note, sometimes people ignorantly accuse the court when persons accused are set free, failing to realize that such decision was made on the failure of the state to fully apply the Miranda Warnings or illegal search and seizure.The word exclusionary, from “exclusion,” is so self-explanatory that one does not need anyone to interpret it. It simply means to “exclude.” The Exclusionary Rule, to the Black’s Law Dictionary states, “A rule that excludes or suppresses evidence obtained in violation of an accused person’s constitutional right.”
In this country, the Constitution, which is the Organic Law, succinctly and unambiguously makes this very Miranda warnings simple in Article 21 (c) which states, “Every person suspected or accused of committing a crime shall immediately upon arrest be informed in detail of the charges, of the right to remain silent and of the fact that any statement made could be used against him in a court of law. Such person shall be entitled to counsel at every stage of the investigation and shall have the right not to be interrogated except in the presence of counsel. Any admission or other statements made by the accused in the absence of such counsel shall be deemed inadmissible as evidence in a court of law.”
To conclude, let me say that any one accused of committing a crime also has rights that must be respected or adhered to, or else, the court will exclude such evidence should it be raised by the defense in a motion to suppress evidence.
Hence, we MUST be aware that any accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. As such, their rights, as stated in the Miranda warnings and reinforced in the 1985 Liberian Constitution, MUST be respected. Henceforth, the Miranda warnings must serve as a guide to state investigators.I Rest My Case.