Professor Wes Oliver’s Filed Amicus Brief with Supreme Court

Wes OliverAnyone who has ever watched a legal show on television has most likely heard the words "You have the right to remain silent" spoken. These beginning few words of the Miranda rights are something many take for granted but know they should be said before a person is arrested. What is the origin of these words, though, and what would happen if they were not uttered by a law enforcement officer?

Professor Wes Oliver has studied the historical context of the Miranda rights at length. Oliver submitted an amicus brief about his findings, which was argued in the Supreme Court case, Vega v, Tekoh, on April 20.

It has frequently been argued that Miranda was a decision that lacked historical support and therefore should not be treated as a constitutional rule. In the Brief of Amici Curiae Historians of Criminal Procedure, Oliver and his co-authors, relying on their recent discoveries from the 1700s, argued that Miranda v. Arizona, to the contrary, restored Framing-era interrogation practices.

"My research went back to 1748 when interrogators were providing an early version of these warnings," Oliver said. He had originally thought that these warnings could be traced back to the late 1700s, but further research placed the origins of the warnings well before the Framing Era.

"I found that the practice of giving the warnings was much older than expected, with a ruling that was very strict which is why they created the warnings," Oliver said.

Oliver credits his research assistant, 2L Nicole Singleton, with discovery of two of the five cases that predate the adoption of the Bill of Rights. "It is very tedious work to go through the materials we were dealing with. Nicole was relentless and her discoveries border on the field of archeology," he said.

It is somewhat unusual for an amicus brief's impact on the Court to be observed. At oral argument on April 20, Justice Gorsuch questioned the police officer's attorney about the implications of Oliver's brief. He also asked the representative from the United States Solicitor General's Office, who split the argument with the officer's attorney, for his thoughts on the implication of the brief.

Oliver began his research when he was working on his doctorate in legal history. "I researched the framing era and the emergence of police departments in 1850s. I knew police stopped giving Miranda rights in the second half of the nineteenth century, but I did not know when they started. The research for this brief has really given me a better sense of the overall history of interrogations," he said.

Oliver is an interdisciplinary legal scholar whose work has applied the seemingly unrelated areas of legal history and computer science to address issues of criminal procedure. He is the author of "Prohibition Era and Policing: A Legacy of Regulation" and a founding member of the Center for Text Analytic Methods and Law at the University of Pittsburgh.

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