May 2, 2016: Criminal Suspects Have a Right to a Vigorous Defense, New York State Bar Association President Miranda Says

In a speech celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court decision that criminal suspects have "the right to remain silent," New York State Bar Association David P. Miranda today urged attorneys and the public "not to remain silent, but to speak out and fight for justice and equality and fairness for all New Yorkers." 

At a Law Day ceremony held in the historic chambers of the state Court of Appeals, Miranda said New York must do more to ensure that criminal defendants, regardless of income, have fair trials.

The theme of the 2016 Law Day is the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona. The court ruled criminal suspects must be told they have the right to remain silent, and that they have a right to an attorney, even if they cannot afford one.

"These rights of an accused are at the heart of our system of justice, which works only if there is vigorous and single-minded advocacy for each party on each side of a case," said Miranda.

"It is a fundamental right older than our democracy," he added, citing the example of lawyer John Adams, who "despite the expected public vilification he endured," defended British soldiers in the Boston Massacre of 1770. The future U.S. president's principled stance "would set the tone of justice and fairness for our fledgling nation."

During height of the Cold War, attorney James B. Donovan endured hate mail and public criticism when he agreed to defend Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy. He believed Abel had a right to a fair trial "and since the trial was going to play out on a world stage, he wanted to make a clear distinction between American and Soviet-style justice," Miranda said.

"Our former Chief Judge Judith Kaye also used the strength of her calling to fight for equality and justice," he added. In 2006, she dissented in a case that found that same sex-couples did not have a constitutional right to marry. Nine years later, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that right does exist.

“Adams, Donovan and Judge Kaye are examples of lawyers taking a principled stand where the stakes go beyond the fate of the individuals on trial. These same issues play out on smaller stages every day when people are detained as suspects in crimes and the public demands justice for the victims.” But trial by media, he said, “is not the American way. In our system of justice, every defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair and public trial.”

Miranda underscored the State Bar Association's support for a properly funded and independent judiciary to ensure the law is applied fairly and impartially. New state laws are needed to bolster the justice system, he said.

Despite some improvements, "our indigent criminal defense system still relies on overworked and underfunded defense attorneys. We have joined in the call for legislation for full and fair statewide funding of indigent criminal defense."

In addition, Miranda called for passage of legislation to reduce wrongful convictions and to help former prison inmates return successfully to the community. 

In closing, Miranda observed, "The bright torch of justice has been passed from Chief Judge Kaye to Chief Judge Lippman and now to Chief Judge DiFiore. We recognize them, and all judges, lawyers and laypersons who use their skills and the strength of their voices, not to remain silent, but to speak out and fight for justice and equality and fairness for all New Yorkers."

The 74,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.

Contact: Lise Bang-Jensen
Director, Media Services and Public Affairs