Criminal Procedure

Prosecuter's closing statements at the 1990 Central Park Five trial in New York City; police interrogators coerced five Hispanic and black teenagers into false confessions after a horrifying rape in Central Park.  Their convictions were later overturned.
Miranda warning.
Ernesto Miranda, #1 on far left in lineup, following arrest in Phoenix, Ariz., 1963.  Miranda Card which advises suspects of their rights to remain silent and to have an attorney before questioning.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Jr., was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006.
CUNY School of Law Professor K. Babe Howell's scholarship focuses on the intersection of criminal justice and race.  She was named to the Academic Advisory Council to help implement stop-and-frisk reforms in New York City.

“…no Warrant shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Fourth Amendment

In rulings on criminal procedure, the Supreme Court has had a tough balancing act. Among the considerations is the need to balance the desire for public safety against the potential abuse of government power. Only after the 14th Amendment was the Court able to address state as well as federal abuses. The Court first addressed several instances of race discrimination in jury selection. During the interwar period, the Court overturned convictions in a broad range of cases, both within the Jim Crow south and beyond, covering coerced confessions in Brown v. Mississippi (1936), financially biased judges in Tumey v. Ohio (1927), mob-dominated trials in Moore v. Dempsey (1923), and right to counsel in Powell v. Alabama (1932). The last ruling overturned the convictions of seven of the nine “Scottsboro Boys” charged with rape in 1931. In Norris v. Alabama (1935), the Court overturned the guilty verdict of the lone retried defendant, Clarence Norris, because African-Americans had been purposefully excluded from grand jury service and therefore he had been denied equal protection of the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

The Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren expanded criminal procedure protections. In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Court construed the Sixth Amendment, as applied through the Due Process Clause in the 14th Amendment to rule that any defendant, charged with a felony, was entitled to legal representation at public expense if he/she could not afford an attorney himself or herself. One of the most controversial cases in Supreme Court history, Miranda v. Arizona (1966), treated the right to counsel, the admissibility of confessions, and the privilege against self-incrimination. It ruled that Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination extended beyond the courtroom, and if arrested one has the right to remain silent. This ruling ensured that the police, detectives, and prosecutors must tell a defendant that he or she has the right to remain silent, cannot question a defendant who is cut off from the outside world, and that one has the right to counsel before being interrogated.

In permitting police officers to stop-and-frisk someone based on a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime or that the person may be armed and presently dangerous, the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio (1968) gave the police broad latitude in personal conduct. Expressing his concern over diminished civil liberties, Justice William Douglas dissented: “To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path.”

Following 4.4 million stop-and-frisk procedures conducted by the New York City Police Department between January 2004 and June 2012—over 80% were of blacks and Hispanics—Federal Judge Shira A. Sheindlin ruled in Floyd v. City of New York (2013) that “the idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and black men in America must constantly fight.” The judge ordered, “immediate changes to the NYPD’s policies . . . and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee compliance with the remedies ordered in this case.” The City of New York is appealing Judge Sheindlin’s decision.

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