Saturday, August 19, 2006

Whatever Happened To Old ___ ?

People have a tendency to view litigation, especially precedent setting litigation, melodramatically. It's all black and white. The good guys are all perfect and the bad guys are all scum. Just exactly who is who depends on which side you're rooting for. However, in the real world, people are people and frequently, they are the same after a monumental trial and decision as they were before it. In two of our most well known Supreme Court cases this fact is born out by later events. Ernesto Miranda, to whom we owe the "Miranda Warning" died in a bar fight a few years later. Clarence Earl Gideon to whom we owe the now established tradition of court appointed counsel for the indigent, died a drunk just as he had lived.



In 1970, after Miranda had served one third of his sentence, he became eligible for parole. He was refused parole four times but was finally paroled in December 1972. In the meantime, Mary Smith, her husband and child had moved away from Phoenix. Twila Hoffman had also moved away.

If Ernest Miranda ever had any ambition, he lost it all in jail. Once he was out on parole, he became a sort of police groupie, hanging around the police station and the court house and acting like a celebrity mascot. At one point, he even sold autographed Miranda warning cards for $1.50 each.

Eventually, he violated parole and was returned to prison for illegal possession of firearms and possession of amphetamines.


It is now January 31, 1976. Ernest Miranda is out of jail and has stopped by La Amapola, a bar in the Deuce section of Phoenix. He is playing poker with two Mexican illegal aliens. All three have been drinking. A remark is made about cheating and a fight breaks out. Miranda beats up one of the aliens and then goes into the men's room to wash the blood off his face and hands.

One of the aliens gives the other one his knife, a mean looking instrument with a six inch hooked blade used for cutting lettuce. He says, "Finish it with this." Miranda comes out of the men's room and is stabbed. When the ambulance arrives at Good Samaritan Hospital, Ernest A. Miranda is dead at the age of 34.

The two illegal aliens flee but are captured. The killer is taken into the police interrogation room. There, a police officer intones, "You have the right to remain silent..." The irony of the situation is lost on the suspect. He remains silent and is released on bail. He disappears and to this day he has not been apprehended.

The only legacy that Miranda leaves to anyone is his legacy to law enforcement: The Miranda Rules. If the events of March 3, 1963 had never occurred, Miranda would have died unknown and unlamented. Instead his name is known to people who cannot name the Chief Justice of the United States, the director of the F.B.I or even the governor of their own state.

Somewhere in this story of a wasted life there is a moral....


Life Goes On

In Gideon's Trumpet, Anthony Lewis portrayed Gideon as a heroic, albeit flawed, figure. He was cast even more heroically in the 1980 film version of the book, with
Henry Fonda playing the lead.

But neither the book nor the movie gave the full story of Clarence Gideon's life. After his acquittal, he resumed his place in a well-worn rut. He married yet again and drifted from one Florida beer joint to the next. He died in Fort Lauderdale on January 18, 1972, at age 61. His kin back in Missouri reluctantly accepted Gideon's body and laid him to rest in an unmarked grave.

Donors later added a simple granite headstone with this engraved script: "Each era finds an improvement in law for the benefit of mankind."

The year Gideon died, the Supreme Court expanded its ruling in his case to include free counsel for anyone arrested who might spend even one day in jail if convicted, including those charged with misdemeanor crimes.


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