A Police Matter

What led to Ernesto Miranda’s questioning in the first place? Joanne speaks with Carroll Cooley, one of the officers who interrogated and arrested Ernesto Miranda fifty-five years ago.

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NATHAN: Everyone knows Spotify is the place to go to stream the latest and greatest in music. But you can now also stream podcasts.

JOANNE: It’s easy. Open the app on your mobile device or desktop, click on the Browse channel, then click on the podcast section. You can also stream on your smart speaker. They have all your favorites across news, entertainment, sports, and culture. Start streaming now.

MALE SPEAKER: Major funding for BackStory is provided by an anonymous donor, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the University of Virginia. The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation.


From Virginia Humanities, this is BackStory.

NATHAN: Welcome to BackStory, the show that explains the history behind the headlines. I’m Nathan Connolly.

JOANNE: I’m Joanne Freeman. If you’re new to the podcast, we’re all historians. Each week we explore the history of a topic that’s been in the news or on our minds. Today’s show starts with a crime.

CARROLL COOLEY: There had been a kidnapping, armed robbery, and a rape of a young lady by the name of Patricia.

JOANNE: This is Carrol Cooley. He’s retired now, but he was a police officer in Phoenix at the time this case crossed his desk in March of 1963. Patricia had been coming home late from a job taking tickets at a local movie theater. She got off the bus a few blocks from her house.

CARROLL COOLEY: It was very dark. There was no street lighting. There was no sidewalks. She had to walk on the side of the street.

JOANNE: And suddenly a man pulled her into his car and drove her out into the desert. Later, the police found physical evidence she’d been assaulted. But remember, this was 1963 so there was no DNA testing.


The strongest lead they had was a description of the inside of the car the young woman had given to them. She remembered an unusual pattern on the seat covers and a strange rope handle along the back seat. It wasn’t much to go on.

CARROLL COOLEY: I went home for the weekend, and it was pretty much at a dead end.

JOANNE: But the next week, there was a tip waiting for them. After the attack, one of Patricia’s relatives had started walking her home at night.

CARROLL COOLEY: And he would go down and walk her home because she was afraid to walk home, as well she should have been. And so while he was there waiting for her to get off the bus a little after midnight, he saw a car driving in the neighborhood. And it was driving very slow, and he became a little suspicious.

JOANNE: The relative called the police and described the car. It took a few days, but Cooley and his partner found a car that matched what Patricia and her relative had described parked outside the home of a couple named Twyla Hoffman and Ernesto Miranda.

CARROLL COOLEY: This young man came to the door, didn’t have a shirt, no shoes. He was wearing a pair of khakis. His hair was all messed up. And it looked like he had been asleep, which I’m sure he was.

And he asked us what this was about. And we told him, well, it was a police matter. He said, well, come in then. And we came into the house. And as we’re standing there in his living room with Twyla and those three kids standing there with us, watching us, once again he wanted to know what we wanted to talk about. And we said, well, we’d rather not talk to here in front of your family, would you volunteer, or would you come with this to the police department, and we can ask questions there. And if you’re not involved in what we’re looking into, we will bring you right home. He said, yes.

NATHAN: Ernesto Miranda’s trip to the police station that day would spark one of the most famous Supreme Court cases of the 20th century.


MALE SPEAKER: Number 759, Ernest Miranda, petitioner versus Arizona.

JOANNE: Today on the show we’ll explore why Miranda ended up being such an important case, and how it created an important police procedure that most Americans can recite from memory.

MALE SPEAKER: Look, it obviously starts with, you have the right to remain silent. I know you’ve heard this before.

MALE SPEAKER: Anything you do or say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

MALE SPEAKER: You have the right to the presence of an attorney.

MALE SPEAKER: If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed before any questioning. Do you understand that?

MALE SPEAKER: What’s the difference, I’ve got nothing to hide.


NATHAN: But first, let’s return to Ernesto Miranda at the Phoenix police station in March of 1963. Cooley and another officer asked him questions about the night Patricia was attacked. Eventually, Cooley asked point blank if he raped Patricia on the night of March 3rd.

CARROLL COOLEY: He said, no, it wasn’t me. I wasn’t up there.


NATHAN: So the officers called Patricia and two other women who been attacked and robbed in a similar way. They asked them to come down and to look at a lineup.

CARROLL COOLEY: We went back into the room, and we sat down. And I didn’t say anything to Ernie. He knew that we had had several people, apparently, look at him. And he said, how did I do? And my response was, Ernie you didn’t do so good.

So he said, well, I guess I better tell you about it then. And I said, yes, I think you should, Ernie. So he writes out a confession, it’s on a departmental form.

MALE SPEAKER: The form handed to him to write on contained a typed statement as follows, which precedes his handwritten confession– I Ernest A. Miranda do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will with no threats, coercion, or promises of immunity, and with full knowledge into my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me. This statement was read to him by the officers, and he confessed in his own handwriting. Right.

CARROLL COOLEY: And he signed that. He knew his constitutional rights.

JOANNE: So the case went to trial.


CARROLL COOLEY: And, of course, in that case, Patricia identified him in court, naturally. And we introduced the written confession. And he was quickly convicted of that– 25 to 30 years consecutively. And so, I did my job. I was satisfied with what I had done. I thought I had done a pretty good job of investigating and testifying.

JOANNE: That confession got Ernesto Miranda convicted of rape and kidnapping. And it would also take his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

CARROLL COOLEY: The first I found about it was in 1966, they said this case that I had worked had gone to the Supreme Court.

JOANNE: Were you surprised by that?

CARROLL COOLEY: I was very surprised. I knew we went by the letter of the law. We were very careful in what we did.

NATHAN: Cooley wasn’t wrong. When the detectives interrogated Ernesto Miranda in 1963, they had done everything by the book. But by 1966, when this case made its way to the Supreme Court, two recent decisions had dramatically strengthened a suspect’s rights while they were in police custody.