"You have the right to remain silent."
So begins one of the most iconic recitations in U.S. culture, and TV crime show fans around the world know what comes next: "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?"
The so-called Miranda rights are a cornerstone of the U.S. justice system. They're said so often in TV and movies they've nearly lost all meaning, at least to those outside the criminal, legal and law-enforcement communities. But in April 2013, followers of the Boston Marathon bombings case were reminded that they do, in fact, mean a lot.
After an epic manhunt put much of Boston on lockdown, the sole surviving suspect in the bombings was captured. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was in custody, and he'd confessed. The city breathed a sigh of relief. Within hours, though, the headlines announced what appeared to be a hitch: Tsarnaev, it seemed, hadn't been read his rights. That is, he hadn't been given the Miranda warning [source: Johnson].
And then confusion: Was it a hitch? What about the confession? Did that mean he would be released? Did the Miranda rights even apply in this case?
The intention behind the Miranda law is straightforward, but its implementation is sometimes not. It goes back to a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case Miranda v. Arizona, an appeal of the 1963 rape and murder convictions of Ernesto Miranda. Miranda, like Tsarnaev, had confessed to the crimes in question. Also like Tsarnaev, Miranda hadn't been read his rights before he confessed.
Though technically, there was no such thing as being "read his rights" until Miranda's appeal reached the U.S. Supreme Court.