High school student Benjamin Vializ, center, who wrote the winning essay, with Court of Appeals Judge Michael Garcia, left, who presented the award, and Brooklyn Supreme Judge Robert Miller.
Benjamin Vializ, center, of the Star Academy in Brooklyn, holds his award as the winner of the 2016 High School Legal Essay contest for New York City high school students sponsored by the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, and the New York Law Journal. On hand to present the award at the New York City Bar were Court of Appeals Judge Michael Garcia, right, and Appellate Division, Second Department Justice Robert Miller, who spearheads the contest. The winning essay is published below. (NYLJ/Rick Kopstein)

Miranda is clearly more than words. As the U.S. Supreme Court teaches in U.S. v. Miranda, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966), constitutional rights declared “in words” must not be “lost in reality.” In order to ensure that our Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and our Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel are not just words that get lost in the harsh reality of police interrogation practices, the Supreme Court made the following ruling.

Before questioning a person in police custody, the police must advise the person that “he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.” Miranda, 384 U.S. 478-479. Unless those “safeguards” are used, the prosecution may not use a person’s statements in court.

Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court recognized the psychological pressures police intentionally put on people in their custody in order to get them to talk. Those tactics can lead to false confessions. Fifty years ago, we did not have the science of DNA testing. Sadly, today’s DNA testing shows that the Miranda Court’s fears were right! People can be coerced into making false confessions. In October 2015, The Innocence Project reported that “of the 330 DNA-based exonerations in this country, more than 25 percent of the cases involved false confessions.”

This essay contest is valuable for high school students because, unfortunately, teenagers are especially susceptible to police coercion and false confessions. The Innocence Project revealed that “in 2013, the National Registry of Exonerations reported that in the past 25 years, 38 percent of confessions of crimes allegedly committed by youth involved false confessions.”

Standard police interrogation tactics often involve false promises of leniency and deception about the evidence. Laura Nirider, the director of the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University Law School, states that “these techniques are so powerful—they’re designed for seasoned adult criminals. If you use them against a child or a teenager, they’re likely to increase the risk of a false confession.”

Making sure that teenagers know they have the right not to talk to the police and they have the right to have someone on their side (attorney) helps make our constitutional rights a reality.

Some argue that Miranda helps criminals hide evidence from the police. However, the Constitution protects the innocent and the guilty. Plus, as Benjamin Franklin said, “it is better that 100 guilty persons should escape than one innocent person should suffer.”

My teacher helped me with the research and editing. I best express my feelings and ideas in lyrics. Below is another way to confirm that Miranda is more than just words.

“Before anybody gets put in cuffs, read us our Miranda rights.
That way we have some insight of what’s to come.
Once you talk, it’s done!
And the rest may not be fun.
Think of it this way.
Not one word do you have to say!
Not alone, do you have to stay!
Ask for a lawyer to show you the way.
Instead of sitting in a cruiser, feeling like a loser, feeling like a fool,
Feeling like the law has control of you, and there’s nothing you can do,
We have the Miranda rights to tell us what we can do.
We can get a lawyer to help us through this dark night.
We can stay quiet, until help comes to shed light!”

Miranda is clearly more than words. As the U.S. Supreme Court teaches in U.S. v. Miranda, 384 U.S. 436, 444 ( 1966 ), constitutional rights declared “in words” must not be “lost in reality.” In order to ensure that our Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and our Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel are not just words that get lost in the harsh reality of police interrogation practices, the Supreme Court made the following ruling.

Before questioning a person in police custody, the police must advise the person that “he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.” Miranda, 384 U.S. 478-479. Unless those “safeguards” are used, the prosecution may not use a person’s statements in court.

Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court recognized the psychological pressures police intentionally put on people in their custody in order to get them to talk. Those tactics can lead to false confessions. Fifty years ago, we did not have the science of DNA testing. Sadly, today’s DNA testing shows that the Miranda Court’s fears were right! People can be coerced into making false confessions. In October 2015, The Innocence Project reported that “of the 330 DNA-based exonerations in this country, more than 25 percent of the cases involved false confessions.”

This essay contest is valuable for high school students because, unfortunately, teenagers are especially susceptible to police coercion and false confessions. The Innocence Project revealed that “in 2013, the National Registry of Exonerations reported that in the past 25 years, 38 percent of confessions of crimes allegedly committed by youth involved false confessions.”

Standard police interrogation tactics often involve false promises of leniency and deception about the evidence. Laura Nirider, the director of the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University Law School, states that “these techniques are so powerful—they’re designed for seasoned adult criminals. If you use them against a child or a teenager, they’re likely to increase the risk of a false confession.”

Making sure that teenagers know they have the right not to talk to the police and they have the right to have someone on their side (attorney) helps make our constitutional rights a reality.

Some argue that Miranda helps criminals hide evidence from the police. However, the Constitution protects the innocent and the guilty. Plus, as Benjamin Franklin said, “it is better that 100 guilty persons should escape than one innocent person should suffer.”

My teacher helped me with the research and editing. I best express my feelings and ideas in lyrics. Below is another way to confirm that Miranda is more than just words.

“Before anybody gets put in cuffs, read us our Miranda rights.
That way we have some insight of what’s to come.
Once you talk, it’s done!
And the rest may not be fun.
Think of it this way.
Not one word do you have to say!
Not alone, do you have to stay!
Ask for a lawyer to show you the way.
Instead of sitting in a cruiser, feeling like a loser, feeling like a fool,
Feeling like the law has control of you, and there’s nothing you can do,
We have the Miranda rights to tell us what we can do.
We can get a lawyer to help us through this dark night.
We can stay quiet, until help comes to shed light!”