Law Day 2016

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. T. Christian Landreth
  • 39th Air Base Wing assistant staff judge advocate
Law Day, held annually at the beginning of May, is a national day celebrating the rule of law in the United States. By observing Law Day each year, we emphasize how the law and the legal process contribute to the freedoms all Americans share.

The theme of Law Day 2016 is, "Miranda: More Than Words," which marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in the Miranda v. Arizona case.
While some people may be unfamiliar with the case itself, they are undoubtedly aware of its impact on the American criminal justice system. In fact, they have likely been exposed to Miranda numerous times simply by watching their favorite cop show on television, or the latest legal drama at the movies. 

Most viewers have heard their favorite television detective turn to a suspect and say, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you." These statements are collectively referred to as, "Miranda warnings" or reading a suspect their, "Miranda rights." They are called this because it was in Miranda v. Arizona that the Supreme Court determined these warnings were constitutionally required. According to the court, Miranda warnings are necessary to preserve a suspect's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Failing to read a suspect their rights prior to questioning often results in the suspect's answers being inadmissible at trial.

The case was certainly groundbreaking, but in many ways, the Supreme Court was simply following the armed forces' lead on the issue. The military began issuing similar warnings long before the Miranda decision. Indeed, Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the court, specifically cited these warnings in his opinion.

In 1950, Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice was adopted. Article 31 and Military Rule of Evidence 305 combine to provide all the protections required of civilian law enforcement by Miranda, plus added protections for American servicemembers. The UCMJ provides greater protection by requiring the suspect be informed of the nature of accusation against the subject prior to questioning. Additionally, Article 31 applies at all times, while Miranda rights are not activated until a suspect is in custody. 

Thus, members of the armed forces should take pride not only in the role they have defending our freedoms, but also the role the military has in defining our freedoms. Law Day is the perfect time to reflect on the rule of law in the United States and the armed forces' contributions to the criminal justice system.