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Celebrating the Rule of Law – Visalia Times

“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 provided for you.”

Americans hear those words as fictional suspects in countless TV crime shows are taken into custody. Even young school children can recognize those as words the police must say when arresting someone. For many, the words have become rote, part of scripts – pure Hollywood. They are, however, far more than just words.

Those words are the Miranda Warnings. In 1966 the US Supreme Court held in Miranda v. Arizona that interrogation of a suspect without proper warning of the consequences was a violation of the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and the 6th Amendment right to counsel. As then Chief Justice Earl Warren said in opening the Miranda decision, “The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of American criminal jurisprudence: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime.” The American Bar Association has chosen “Miranda: More than Words” as the theme of this year’s Law Day.

In 1958 President Eisenhower instituted Law Day on May 1 as a celebration of the rule of law in the United States in hopes that it would serve as an antidote to the spread of communism. Though the “red scare” no longer occupies a central place in our consciousness, Law Day continues to be celebrated with a focus on educating the public on the importance of the rule of law to our democracy.

The Miranda warnings are representative of the protections provided to American citizens by the Bill of Rights. Since 1966, courts have continued to refine the rules of Miranda. Many decisions have sought to define when a person is truly in custody and therefore, entitled to being Mirandized.

Ask any of the hundreds of Tulare County students who took part in this year’s Mock Trial Competition about the importance of the circumstances under which a suspect has waived his Miranda rights. A central issue in their case facts this year was whether a suspect’s waiver was voluntary. The failure to properly Mirandize a suspect can lead to the inability to successfully prosecute that person. It is tempting to say that the accused “got off on a technicality.” The reality is that the technicality was the protection of the person’s constitutional rights. The Constitution protects us all – guilty and innocent.

Does this mean that the guilty sometimes go free? Yes, it does. That concept is fundamental to the American justice system. We place an admirably high value on personal freedoms, and in return we are willing to accept that a certain percentage of errors will occur. Innocence Projects across the country reflect that those errors occur for both the guilty and the innocent.

Though our justice system is not perfect, courts and legal professionals, who devote their careers to protecting the rights of citizens and maintaining the rule of law, strive every day to come as close as possible to the goals set forth by the Founding Fathers. Attorneys, judges and other legal professionals do not take lightly our pledge to uphold and protect the Constitution. Whether we practice in the criminal, civil, probate, family law or juvenile arenas, every day we accept the charge to work towards a just society. Law Day is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the crucial role of our legal system in American democracy.

The Tulare County Bar Association celebrates Law Day with a series of events. Monday, the Bench and Bar will join together in the annual Law Day ceremony at 8:30 a.m. in Department 6 of the Superior Court. The public is welcome to join us as we reflect on this year’s theme and honor attorneys who have been actively practicing 40 years or more. We will also remember association members who have passed away this year.

The Office of the District Attorney will present its Justice Award, and special recognition will be paid to the Public Law Library on its 125th anniversary.

On Tuesday, we will celebrate attorneys and legal professionals who exemplify the best in our profession at our annual Barrister’s Banquet. We will present our annual Distinguished Service Award to Russ Hurley of Dowling Aaron. For 30 years, Mr. Hurley served on the Central California Legal Services Board of Directors as a representative of the Tulare County Bar Association. Mr. Hurley has donated hundreds of hours to ensure that low-income citizens of Tulare County receive appropriate legal services.

We will also present our Liberty Bell Award, given to a non-attorney who has contributed significantly through law-related work, to Maria Villa, a CSET counselor who worked with Central California Legal Services in a cooperative project that helped many families avoid foreclosure during the mortgage crisis.

Whether you are able to join in our observances or not, we do hope that the next time you tune in to your favorite crime drama you will listen for the familiar words of the Miranda warning with a new appreciation of their significance. A statement of your Constitutional rights is far more than just words.

Carla R. D. Khal is president of the Tulare County Bar Association

Article source: http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com/story/opinion/2016/04/30/celebrating-rule-law/83711000/

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