Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 37 seconds
Welcome to the Yada Yada Law School Week 3 recap by me, Pete-the-Intern. Yada Yada Law School is a 10-week lecture series on the law, taught through the perspective of Seinfeld, and performed by actual law professors across the country. This week, my classmates and I heard from Assistant Professor of Political Science at North Carolina State, Jordan Carr Peterson on the issue of criminal procedure.
Going into this week’s lecture, I would say that my understanding of criminal procedure is limited primarily to your traditional 10th-grade government course basics. As I progress through Seinfeld, I am coming to the conclusion that the show’s core characters, while somehow still likable, are actually pretty horrible people. That being said, I have no doubt that these characters will run into some hilarious Criminal Procedure teaching points.
What is Criminal Procedure?
According to Professor Peterson, criminal procedure is a complex list of boundaries that prosecutorial staff and law enforcement must stay within while investigating criminal behavior. In constitutional criminal procedure, citizens are given several key rights in the Bill of Rights that law enforcement must abide by.
- 4th Amendment – Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
- 5th Amendment – Due Process (Fairness), Self-Incrimination
- 6th Amendment – Right to Counsel
Further, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure offer 61 different rules governing how law enforcement should interpret these more general rights laid out in the Constitution.
First World Hypothetical:
For this hypothetical, we will return to the hectic Whole Foods mentioned back in Week 1. On a busy Sunday afternoon, for some reason, you have the urge to steal 5 gallons of milk from Whole Foods. As you are leaving, someone calls the police and as you have no receipt to exonerate yourself, you are promptly arrested. Before you enter an interrogation room, a police officer asks you whether or not you truly stole the milk, to which you answer honestly. The officer then asks if you have stolen before and in a shocking twist, you reveal to him the location of other items that you have recently stole from Whole Foods. This officer quickly goes to your residence and takes pictures of the stolen goods. Inside the interrogation room, you are informed of your Miranda rights and choose to remain silent until your day in court. On the date of your trial, the only evidence against you is the admission of guilt given to the officer and the photos of stolen goods within your home. Which, if any, of this evidence will be admissible at trial?
Miranda Rights and Interrogating the “Smog Strangler”
In Season 4, on Jerry, George and Kramer’s trip to L.A., Kramer is accused of being a notorious serial strangler in the L.A. area and is promptly arrested. Shortly after his arrest, Kramer is violently interrogated by an L.A.P.D. lieutenant who appears to be quickly breaking down Kramer’s mental fortitude. In the classic dark room with one bright light interrogation room, the lieutenant explains to Kramer that he is a “weed” who is “choking the life out of all the pretty flowers” and repeatedly tells Kramer that he is guilty of the alleged strangulations. This line leads to Kramer sobbing uncontrollably until the lieutenant receives a new tip that exonerates and frees Kramer.
In this scenario, Kramer was able to leave the interrogation room overjoyed to return to his promising acting career. However, what would have happened had he not been exonerated and been coerced to confess? This question brings up one of the cornerstone elements of modern criminal procedure, the Miranda warnings.
In 1960, the Supreme Court of the United States in Miranda v. Arizona ruled that Fifth Amendment requires that law enforcement officials advise suspects of their right (1) to remain silent and to (2) obtain an attorney during interrogations while in police custody. This means that in almost all cases, before law enforcement questions a detained individual, they are required to read the detained individual a list of rights that they have under the fifth amendment.
After this decision, any evidence obtained through questioning would not be admissible if these Miranda warnings were not issued prior to the questioning.
So what exactly does this mean for Kramer? Well as attorneys love to say… “it depends!” From the scenes included in the show, we can’t be completely sure whether Kramer was properly Mirandized or not. Had he not been read his rights before being questioned by the police, under the Miranda ruling, nothing he said during the interrogation could have been used against him.
I thought that Professor Peterson did a great job of explaining the purpose behind criminal procedure guidelines such as the Miranda requirements. While I would agree with Professor Peterson that these guidelines are necessary to protect our constitutional rights, it is interesting to think about situations where these rules could be exploited in favor of a real criminal. When Miranda was decided in 1960, a dissenting party of the court argued that while a good faith attempt should be made to explain fifth amendment rights, statements resulting from interrogation should not be automatically excluded if the suspect was not explicitly informed of his rights. What is your opinion?
Thank you for checking in on Week 3 of Yada Yada Law School! If you would like to watch the full lecture, you can do so for free here. Until next time!
None of the evidence could be used! In this scenario, while being detained, you were asked a question before you were read your Miranda rights. Therefore, any evidence stemming from your response to this question is inadmissible.