Sunday, September 6, 2009

Miranda's lawyer

Peter Baird died August 27. He was a lawyer with Lewis & Roca in Phoenix. You've likely never heard of him. I don't think I ever did until John Wesley Hall mentioned his passing. But if you didn't know Baird, you knew his most famous client: Ernesto Miranda.

The backstory, which you already know, is that Miranda was charged with rape. He gave a confession to the cops; it was used against him at trial and he was convicted. He appealed the case and the Supreme Court threw out the confession, creating the Miranda warnings in the process. It's after that, for the second trial, that Baird came on board - in time to have Miranda convicted again (this time without that confession he gave the authorities).

Baird argued cases at SCOTUS, but not Miranda's (that was two other lawyers at Lewis & Roca. But they're dead, too. So, apparently, is whoever tried the case in the first place. That's the lawyer I want to know about. The one who thought to stand up in court and ask the judge to suppress his client's confession because nobody told him he didn't have to talk to the police, the one who had an idea, a vision, a wild thought, and preserved it so that it could become the law of the land.

There are three lessons from Miranda's case - one for the criminal defense lawyer; one for the police and prosecutors, and one for the general public.

For the criminal defense lawyer: We have to be smarter and cleverer and gutsier. We have to ask for the sun and the moon and the stars. We have to ask for what nobody's gotten before and keep asking because one of these days it will be the law, but only if we keep after it. The good news is that we are smarter and cleverer and gutsier. The bad news is that too often we're too lazy to take advantage of that. We can't be. They have the cops and the newspapers and the public, and the law and the facts. We must have drive and determination and care and attention. And brains and wit and guts.

For the police and prosecutors: You don't need to lie and cheat. You have crime labs and newspapers and public opinion and the courts and the law and the facts. Play fair. You'll win anyhow. People want to confess, and you're good at talking them into it. And if the case is good, it will be good without that snitch, without that coerced confession, without the unconstitutional search. Trust the record, do your job, and obey the damn law.

For the general public. When police want to ask you questions, when they are ready to interrogate you, refuse. You have the right to remain silent for a reason. Shut the fuck up.

Peter Baird, the last man to represent Ernesto Miranda. R.I.P.

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