The FBI & The Miranda Decision

A long forgotten fact by many is this: The FBI was advising suspects of their constitutional rights long before Miranda. Documented evidence of this is seen in statements I’ve examined from the 1930s. No doubt this practice continued long into the era of the Miranda decision of the 1960s and was commented upon by the Supreme Court.  

As one of the many examples which exist in recovered FBI files is this preamble to the 1934 interview of suspect, Hyman S. Lebman, by FBI, SAC Gus Jones in Texas.  Lebman was altering pistols into machine gun type weapons and selling them to "Baby Face" Nelson (known to Lebman as Jimmy Williams) and others when nabbed.  One of his weapons showed up at the battle at Little Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin and was subsequently traced back to him.  The story with Lebman is a long one….Several of his weapons seized have been at the Bureau, on display at times. 

Anyhow, here’s the gist of the beginning of the signed statement, witnessed by SA C. R. Davis. Statements I’ve examined begin with this wording, obviously with the Lebman name replaced with whomever was the catch of the day. 

“I, H. S. Lebman, after being duly warned of my constitutional rights that I do not have to make a statement and that any statement I may make concerning this matter may be used against me, make the free and voluntary statement to SAC Gus Jones….”  (Signed statement of April, 1934)

It doesn’t get any more clear than that……

A writer for the Washington Post pointed out last week that, "During oral argument in the Miranda case, Justice Abe Fortas asked the federal government’s lawyer for more detail on FBI interrogation practices. Hoover’s written answer to the court was prompt and specific. “Both suspects and persons under arrest” were given warnings “at the very outset of the interview,” he wrote. They could consult with counsel of their choice “or anyone else with whom [they] wish to speak,” could have “free counsel” if they were “unable to pay” and could consult with counsel by telephone, if more convenient. Interviews were terminated promptly if counsel was requested. If an interview subject was “indecisive” about requesting counsel, or when there was a question as to whether he had waived counsel, Hoover wrote, the decision to proceed was “left to the judgment of the interviewing Agent.”