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The tale behind cops' most famous words

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The words are almost as familiar as the Pledge of Allegiance or the Lord's Prayer. They begin invariably: "You have the right to remain silent...."

Now, after 34 years as US law, the so-called Miranda rights - uttered by crimefighters hundreds of times a day - could be struck down before summer by the US Supreme Court.

If that happens - and legal experts say it well could - the rules governing how police interrogate suspects would revert to the pre-1966 standard. Some believe it would free police from a heavy legal yoke that limits their ability to get confessions. Others worry it would dismantle a fire wall of constitutional protections for people in custody.

True, few cases get thrown out on Miranda violations. And suspects do still confess, though some prosecutors argue that a particular Miranda provision - the one that requires questioning to end the moment a suspect asks for a lawyer - has had a chilling effect.

Even here in Phoenix - where the seemingly ordinary case of one Ernesto Arturo Miranda took its first history-making steps - people today are split over the need for the Miranda rule. They are divided, too, over what would happen if it is overturned.

Larry Debus, a former Phoenix police detective who was one of the people to question young Miranda that fateful March day in 1963, is one who says the case changed the balance of power between police and suspects for the better.

"To be real honest with you, the cops had known all along that the things they were doing were wrong," he says, thinking back. "It was just a matter of getting away with it."

Gary Nelson, who stood before the nation's highest court and argued that Arizona did not trample Miranda's constitutional rights in obtaining a confession, sees it differently. He believes Miranda, who'd had plenty of run-ins with the law, was well aware of his right not to incriminate himself and his right to a lawyer.

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