Law Day 2016: Celebrating 'Miranda: More than Words'

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kathryn Boucher
  • 66th Air Base Group Assistant Staff Judge Advocate
Law Day is an annual event originally conceived in 1957 when American Bar Association President Charles Rhynes envisioned a special national day to mark this nation's commitment to the rule of law. The following year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the first Law Day.

In 1961, Law Day became official when Congress issued a joint resolution designating May 1 as the official date for celebrating Law Day. The Law Day theme this year is "Miranda: More than Words."

This year marks the 50th anniversary of perhaps one of the nation's best-known U.S. Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. The Miranda Warning, developed in response to this landmark ruling, apprises suspects interrogated by police of their rights to remain silent and their right to legal representation.

Miranda Warnings are an important aspect of the criminal justice system and promote fairness and equal justice under the law.

In Miranda, the court held that law enforcement personnel must advise a suspect of his or her rights in order to use statements made during a custodial interrogation in a later criminal proceeding. Because of this case, police developed the Miranda Warning (the rights advisement often heard in television and movies involving criminal arrests). 

Military members subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice are offered protections similar to Miranda Warnings under Article 31 of the UCMJ.

These rights are commonly referred to as "Article 31 rights." Because military members, unlike civilians, may be questioned by commanders or others as part of official investigations, in many ways, Article 31 rights offer military members rights that are greater than those covered by Miranda. 

The obligation to read someone his or her Article 31 rights does not apply only to law enforcement. In the military, any person subject to the UCMJ must advise another individual if they suspect that person committed a criminal offense, and they are interrogating (questioning) the other person as part of an official law enforcement investigation or disciplinary inquiry.

The rights also require that a suspect be informed of the general nature of the suspected offense for which they are being questioned. 

Article 31 rights also are not triggered solely when someone is taken into custody. The moment a commander or supervisor suspects someone of an offense under the UCMJ and starts asking questions, or taking any action in which an incriminating response is either sought or is a reasonable consequence of such questioning, the individual must advise the suspect of his or her rights. This includes both formal and informal questioning.

It can also be situations where a commander or supervisor makes a statement to a suspect that would be likely to elicit a response, such as "I don't know what you were thinking, but I'm assuming the worst."

Air Force Visual Aid 31-231, available online at Air Force e-Publishing, is a wallet-sized card with rights advice for military personnel on one side, and Fifth Amendment/Miranda Warning rights for civilians on the other.

Although Article 31 does not include a right to counsel, one is provided in the constitution. The right is listed on the rights advisement card, however, and should be included when reading a suspect his or her rights. 

Military members are entitled to free legal representation through the Area Defense Counsel, or may also hire a civilian attorney at their own expense. Military members who need assistance should contact the Area Defense Counsel's office at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, at 609-754-2349.