Justice and Miranda Rule

Hurrah for your editorial comments (Jan. 23), "What Hogwash!" on the Miranda ruling regarding the rights of the citizen to remain silent and not to "incriminate" himself or herself when accused by state authorities. It is a ruling that seems to have "spilled over" to our neighbors to the south.

That very evening, while cautiously threading my way through the poorly lighted streets of Tijuana on my return from a visit to Ensenada with a foreign visitor, I was pulled over by the local police. The first officer claimed that I had failed to stop at a stop sign. I said I did not think so, although agreeing it might possibly have happened because of poor lighting and my desperate search for signs directing me to the border. He insisted that I knew I had failed to stop. Something inside me said: "No, don't admit what is not true. You did not intentionally fail to stop, and probably did not miss any stop sign at all." I told him and his partner both the same thing.

The second officer then told me I would have to go to the police station to pay what seemed to me an exorbitant fine. He kept my driver's license and told me to turn left at the next corner and then stop when he flashed his red light. When I stopped, there was no police station in sight--in fact, there was only barren ground beside the roadway. The second officer asked if I had enough cash to pay the fine. I said I had only traveler's checks. He replied the "police station" would take only cash, and asked me to look and see how much cash I had. By this time, fully alert, I refused to count my cash or open my wallet, and demanded to be directed to the police station! He thereupon returned my license and told me which direction to follow to the border.

I am convinced that it was because of my sense of rights of a citizen that I failed to be intimidated by the thinly veiled threats of these policemen. If I had "admitted" the false charge of which they accused me, I should have been in a much weaker position to confront them. By politely but firmly admitting nothing and demanding to be taken to their superiors, I was able to avoid what I believe to have been an attempt at illegal exploitation. Without the Miranda ruling or its equivalent, citizens anywhere can be easily intimidated by police or others in authority into admitting fault and coughing up bribes in the hope of escaping even harsher penalties, even when they believe they have done nothing wrong.

This is the first time I have ever been so treated in Mexico, and I have written the local Mexican Consulate General about this incident. One hopes it is not a sign of degeneration of law and order in our neighbor to the south. But wherever unjust intimidation by authorities occurs, it is the duty of citizens to resist it and to demand due process. That's what the Miranda ruling is all about, and if America has anything of value to "export," the Miranda principle surely is at the top of the list.


San Diego

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