The Warren Court Essay

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Justice Warren and his term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States made an impact on the countrys criminal justice system and the criminal process. During his term as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Warren led the body in making substantial and revolutionary changes in criminal procedure.

            Justice Earl Warren was known for handing out radical and non-popular decisions. He was described as a judicial statesman who could lead a divided court to unanimity on civil rights, strong on the bench, silent in private and loyal always to the great tradition of a court unique in this world (Post-Dispatch). The man and his court became popular because of the unhesitating courage they displayed in rendering decisions they believed were just, even though society is of the contrary opinion (Post-Dispatch).

            When Justice Warren came to exercise his duties as chief justice, he had many detractors who cast doubts about his sufficient judicial experience to take on his responsibilities. However, he was successful in proving them wrong. Indeed, he was quoted in saying that service on a bench is far from an essential qualification for the supreme bench, and that men placed on the latter, independent from politics, develop in almost unpredictable ways (Post-Dispatch).

            The Warren Court led the Supreme Court at a time when there was a strong movement in favor of individual civil rights and away from the notion that the government was infallible (Post-Dispatch). The Warren Court also served between the years 1963 to 1969, during which time five liberals sat at the court (Tushnet). This court made controversial decisions on the subject of criminal law enforcement, which gave meaning to three great Amendments to the American Constitution since the Civil War (Post-Dispatch).

            The Warren Courts decisions relating to criminal procedure focused on everyday policing, or the routine contacts that take place between police officers and ordinary people (Tushnet). The court found that police officers or law enforcers are susceptible to  abusing their powers to the prejudice of civilians, and it took it upon itself to make clear the constitutional limitations that should address the possible kinds of abuses in the policing setting (Tushnet).

            The Warren Court also went down in history for being the one to finally settle racial issues in the nation. It ensured that one citizen enjoys the same rights enjoyed by any other. Thus, Chief Justice Warren became known in American history as one of the greatest chief justices of the countrys Supreme Court (Post-Dispatch).

            The Warren Court made representative government the effective law of the land by ruling that votes of different people should be considered equal. On the subject of fairness in trial, the Warren Court was the first to announce and apply the basic requirements for fair trial (Post-Dispatch).

            The Warren Court, due to its unconventional decisions, had taken criticisms, most of which question the courts power to make policy decisions (Armstrong). The court was perceived to be acting as a legislative body, rather than a judicial one, when it makes policy decisions in the guise of interpretation and application of the Constitution or a statute (Armstrong).

            The Warren Court was also perceived to have taken an activist stance, especially since Earl Warrens policies appeared to have been imprinted on every decision promulgated by the Court. this attitude led to the clamor for the court to exercise judicial restraint in its exercise of its powers (Tushnet).

            The Warren Courts decisions have been classified into five areas, namely, the criminal procedure cases, school desegration cases, reapportionment cases, the obscenity cases, and the church-state cases (Kurland). Below are some of the landmark cases promulgated by the Warren Court.

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

            This case is one of the most popular cases decided by the Warren Court. This case was penned by Justice Warren himself in 1966. This case is considered to be the most controversial opinion on criminal justice ever handed down by the United States Supreme Court (White). This case had not been decided unanimously. The votes turned out with only slight margin of five to four. However, Justice Warren specifically described the task before the court, which is to ascertain the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime. (Miranda v. Arizona).

            This case involves Miranda, an indigent Mexican, who was arrested by the police and taken into a special interrogation room where a confession was secured from him. Since the inception of the interrogation process, Miranda was not informed of his constitutional rights. thus, he gave an oral admission, after which he was directed to sign a statement verifying such admission. The Court noted that in such situations, the atmosphere dominated by the police. Therefore, it would be easy to obtain self-incriminating statements or admissions from people who are the subjects of the investigation (Miranda v. Arizona).

            The Court, noting that there are numerous violations of constitutional rights that occur during custodial interrogations, observed that such situations often lead to the unwilling confession of a defendant. The Court also stated that prior to the Miranda v. Arizona case, it is common knowledge that the police resort to physical brutality to obtain confessions from defendants. These factors led Justice Warren to be concerned that these practices consisting of violations of rights become the rule, rather than the exception (Miranda v. Arizona).

            The Warren Court likewise described the nature of custodial interrogations as naturally psychologically coercive. Thus, even if there is no physical violence involved, there is plenty of room for mental coercion since most of the interrogations occur in private. Law enforcement agencies even instruct that interrogation should take place in private so that the suspect would not have psychological advantage. In addition, interrogators are instructed to display an air of confidence in order to heighten the suspects feeling of unfamiliarity in his surroundings, which could increase the chances of his giving an admission (Miranda v. Arizona).

            The court ruled that the Fifth Amendment privilege relating to the right against self-incrimination of an accused should be held applicable to custodial interrogations. Therefore, confessions and admissions obtained from defendants in violation of their constitutional rights should be considered admissible in evidence against them. Thus, the court stated:

            The current practice of incommunicado interrogation is at odds with one of our Nations most cherished principles that the individual may not be compelled to incriminate himself. Unless adequate protective devices are employed to dispel the compulsion inherent in custodial surroundings, no statement obtained from the defendant can truly be the product of his free choice.

            From the foregoing, we can readily perceive an intimate connection between the privilege against self-incrimination and police custodial questioning. It is fitting to turn to history and precedent underlying the Self-Incrimination Clause to determine its applicability in this situation. (Miranda v. Arizona).

            Furthermore, the Court explained the nature of the Fifth Amendment privilege as a limitation on the scope of the governments power over its citizens. The government has to prove the guilt of a person suspected of having committed a crime, and not simply compel him to admit it from his own mouth. Therefore, the court concluded that a person has the right to remain silent unless he chooses to speak in the unfettered exercise of his own will (Miranda v. Arizona).

            Justice Warren further discussed that the Fifth Amendment privilege had always enjoyed liberal construction, given its underlying principle of voluntariness on the part of a defendant who decides to state  incriminatory statements. He thus concluded that this protection must extend to custodial interrogations because that is the forum where most psychological intimidation occurs. The isolated atmosphere common in custodial interrogations also affects the feeling of compulsion for the defendant to speak (Miranda v. Arizona).

            Hence, in this case, Justice Warren summed up the rules that must be followed during custodial interrogation, in keeping with the Fifth Amendment privilege, thus:

            At the outset, if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he      must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent. For those unaware of the privilege, the warning is needed simply to     make them aware of it the threshold requirement for an intelligent decision as to its exercise. More important, such a warning is an absolute prerequisite in overcoming the inherent pressures of the interrogation atmosphere (Miranda v. Arizona)¦

            Justice Warren also required that the warning that the defendant has the right to remain silent be accompanied by the explanation that anything said can and will be used against the individual in court. this requirement ensures that the defendant is fully aware of the risks or consequences involved in not heeding the warning (Miranda v. Arizona).

            Another important aspect of the case is the recognition of the right of a person under custodial interrogation to have counsel present at the interrogation, and that indigent persons would be provided with counsel if they were unable to get a counsel by themselves. These rights ensure that the right mentioned above regarding the right to be silent remains unregulated during the custodial investigation (Miranda v. Arizona).

            Finally, the Court ruled that the statements derived in custodial investigations through violations of the Fifth Amendment privilege would be held inadmissible against defendant. All of these rights serve as safeguards against abuses and violations of rights committed by the police during custodial investigation.


Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964).

            Escobedo v. Illinois was an earlier case which ruling was followed by Miranda v. Arizona. This case involved a 22-year-old man who was arrested together with his sister and taken into custody, in relation to the fatal shooting of his brother-in-law. He repeatedly requested for the assistance of counsel, but such request was ignored and the interrogation persisted. The interrogators likewise failed to inform him of his right to remain silent. Thus, the defendant gave an incriminating statement, which the prosecution used against him in trial. He was later convicted of murder.

            The Warren Court decided that the admission of the defendant was inadmissible because it was elicited during the custodial interrogation in violation of his constitutional rights. The court ruled that since the investigation involved was not a mere general inquiry into an unsolved crime, then the rights of a person under custody should already be recognized, otherwise any admission to be obtained from him would be inadmissible in evidence against him. Since in this case, the accused was not informed of his constitutional right to keep silent, there was a violation of the Fifth Amendment privilege, which calls for the reversal of the judgment of conviction since the admission is inadmissible in evidence (Escobedo v. Illinois).

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963).

            Gideon v. Wainwright is another landmark case decided by the Warren Court. It decided that the right of indigent persons to be provided with counsel must apply, across the board in all states and in all felonies. This was a landmark decision because it interpreted the Sixth Amendment, which only provides that the accused has a right to have his own counsel, as requiring the state to provide an accused with counsel if he cannot afford one. This decision was criticized as an attempt on the part of the court to legislate on policy, rather than to simply interpret the law.

            In this case, an accused was charged with a noncapital felony. His request to have a counsel appointed by the court was denied and the defendant was convicted after trial. When the case went to the Supreme Court, the Warren Court, through Justice Black, ruled that the right to counsel is an essential right to guarantee a fair trial, which meant that the trial involved in the case had not been fair (Gideon v. Wainwright).

            In sum, the Warren Court succeeded in strengthening civil rights, particularly in the filed of criminal procedure. However, it was greatly criticized for its innovations, particularly those relating to its excessive attention on constitutional regulation of criminal procedure. Moreover, considering the stance of the Warren Court, there was a general feeling that the court did not sufficiently consider substantive criminal law or punishment (Brown). The liberality of the court and its tendency to legislate policy caused signs of Impeach Earl Warren to crop up everywhere. This signaled the judicial revolution, where people got angered by the courts approach.

                                                                   Works Cited

Armstrong, Virginia C. Impeach Earl Warren: The Warren Courts Legacy Fifty Years   Later, Part I. Eagle Forums Court Watch. 27 Feb. 2008.            .

Brown, D.K. (2002). The Warren Court, Criminal Procedure Reform, and Retributive     Punishment. Washington and Lee Law Review. 26 Feb. 2008.


Earl Warren (1891-1974). Michaelariens. 27 Feb. 2008.            .


Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964). 27 Feb. 2008.             .


Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). 27 Feb. 2008.   .

How did the Warren Court use judicial review to protect the rights of citizens? 27 Feb.           2008. .


Kurland, P. B. Earl Warren, the Warren Court, and the Warren Myths. Michigan          Law             Review 67.2 (1968): 353-358.


Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). 27 Feb. 2008            .

Post-Dispatch, L.  (1969). Chief Justice Earl Warren. The Journal of Negro History        54(3), 284-285.

Strauss, David A. The Common Law Genius of the Warren Court. 2002. 27 Feb. 2008.            .

Tushnet, Mark. Observations on the New Revolution in Constitutional Criminal   Procedure. Georgetown Law Journal. 2006. 27 Feb. 2008.            .

White, Welsh  S. and Ann Arbor. Mirandas Waning Protections: Police Interrogation   Practices after Dickerson. The University of Michigan Press. 2004. 26, Feb.             2008.            .

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