Dickerson v. United States

530 U.S. 428

Case Year: 2000

Case Ruling: 7-2, Reversed

Opinion Justice: Rehnquist

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Concurring Opinions

Dissenting Opinions

Court Opinion Joiner(s):

Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy, O'Connor, Souter, Stevens


1st Concurring Opinion

Author: Stevens


1st Dissenting Opinion

Author: Scalia

Joiner(s): Thomas

2nd Concurring Opinion



2nd Dissenting Opinion



3rd Concurring Opinion



3rd Dissenting Opinion



Other Concurring Opinions:


When Miranda v. Arizona was handed down in 1966, the reaction in Congress was quite negative. To blunt the effect of the decision, Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. §3501,a provision declaring that any confession "shall be admissible in evidence if it is voluntarily given." The statute listed several factors relevant to determining whether a confession is voluntary, and one factor was compliance with the Miranda decision. The law made clear, however, that the absence of any particular factor "need not be conclusive on the issue of voluntariness of the confession." In short, the law said that a confession could be voluntary, and thus admissible, even if Miranda warnings were not given. The Justice Department, assuming that the law was unconstitutional, never made use of it. Consequently, the law remained virtually dormant until resurrected by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1999.

FBI agents picked up Charles Thomas Dickerson for questioning about a bank robbery in Alexandria, Virginia. They interviewed him twice, and he gave statements to the agents. The first questioning took place without Miranda warnings. Whether Dickerson was advised of his rights prior to the second interview was a matter of dispute. The statements he made led officers to obtain a warrant and search his apartment where they seized additional evidence.

Prior to his trial, Dickerson moved to suppress his incriminating statements and the items seized from his apartment on the ground that this evidence was all based on comments he made without being informed of his constitutional rights. The trial court judge granted the motion to suppress. The trial was postponed while the United States appealed the suppression ruling. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the statements and physical evidence could be admitted as evidence because Dickerson's comments were made voluntarily, despite the fact that his rights under Miranda had been violated. The appeals court based its decision on Section 3501, even though the United States refused to rely on that provision and asserted that the law was unconstitutional.

Dickerson appealed to the Supreme Court. Because the Justice Department remained opposed to the reasoning behind the Fourth Circuit's decision to admit the evidence, the Supreme Court appointed University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, a longtime critic of the Mirandaruling, as a special friend of the court to argue in favor of the Fourth Circuit's position.



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. . . .

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." Palermo v. United States (1959) and Gordon v. United States (1953). 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. See, e.g., City of Boerne v. Flores (1997). This case therefore turns on whether the MirandaCourt 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 Mirandadecision. 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" and "not themselves rights protected by the Constitution," 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 Mirandais a constitutional decision--is that bothMirandaand 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.". . .

The dissent argues that it is judicial overreaching for this Court to hold §3501 unconstitutional unless we hold that theMiranda 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. While " stare decisis is not an inexorable command," State Oil Co. v. Khan (1997), particularly when we are interpreting the Constitution, Agostini v. Felton (1997), "even in constitutional cases, the doctrine carries such persuasive force that we have always required a departure from precedent to be supported by some 'special justification.' " United States v. International Business Machines Corp. (1996).

We do not think there is such justification for overruling Miranda. 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 theMiranda 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



[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. . . . Despite the Court's Orwellian assertion to the contrary, it is undeniable that later cases . . . have "undermined [ Miranda's] doctrinal underpinnings," denying constitutional violation and thus stripping the holding of its only constitutionally legitimate support. Miranda's critics and supporters alike have long made this point. . . .

The Court cites Patterson v. McLean Credit Union (1989) as accurately reflecting our standard for overruling, which I am pleased to accept, even though Patterson was speaking of overruling statutory cases and the standard for constitutional decisions is somewhat more lenient. What is set forth there reads as though it was written precisely with the current status of Miranda in mind:

"In cases where statutory precedents have been overruled, the primary reason for the Court's shift in position has been the intervening development of the law, through either the growth of judicial doctrine or further action taken by Congress. Where such changes have removed or weakened the conceptual underpinnings from the prior decision, . . . or where the later law has rendered the decision irreconcilable with competing legal doctrines or policies, . . . the Court has not hesitated to overrule an earlier decision."

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 Mirandaissues, 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 thanMiranda for law enforcement officers to conform to, and for courts to apply in a consistent manner.". . .

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," U.S. Const., Amdt. 10.

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 yetstill 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 extraconstitutional 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.