Researcher examines Miranda warning and inspires criminal justice system reforms

Thursday, September 25, 2014 - 19:50

The classic Miranda warnings ― you have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you in court; you have the right to an attorney, and so on ― are simple and easy to understand, right?

Not necessarily, says Richard Rogers, Regents Professor of psychology.

Rogers has studied Miranda warnings and their use across the country for more than a decade. During that time, he has found that some of the warnings used to inform defendants of their rights may instead confuse them, especially in cases involving juveniles.

"There are so many different versions of these warnings, and some of them are written at a college or post-college level," Rogers says. "Thousands of defendants give up their rights due to a poor understanding of what those warnings mean, and often, profoundly mistaken beliefs."

He found that despite the Miranda warning, some believe their silence can be used as evidence against them in court.

Rogers' research and its findings prompted the American Bar Association in 2010 to call for clear and concise Miranda language for juveniles across the country.

Eric Drogin, a legal scholar and forensic psychologist at the Harvard Medical School, has studied Miranda warnings and waivers along with Rogers, and championed the bar association's resolution.

"Dick's research was cited throughout their proposal, and it was really because of him that we were able to get these things going and to help these people," Drogin says. "Here you have the largest association of lawyers in the world looking at Dick's material and saying 'this is important.'"

Most recently, Rogers and Drogin co-authored Mirandized Statements, a book published by the bar association that offers valuable tools for both defense attorneys and prosecutors to build the strongest cases possible and to help judges weigh the arguments about whether to suppress a Mirandized confession.

"This book was an opportunity to take Dick's research and hand it over to the legal community so that defense counsel and prosecutors alike could benefit from the proper science that could be used to achieve justice for this population," Drogin says.

Rogers joined the UNT faculty in 1991. At the time, his forensic psychology research focused on the assessment of malingering and the study of competency to stand trial.

The assessment of malingering is "like a chess match," he says. Forensic evaluators must determine if a defendant is faking a mental disorder in order to obtain a shorter sentence, to avoid the death penalty or to receive some unwarranted financial benefit. His research has led to the development of some strategies for differentiating malingerers from those with real mental disorders.

"This is difficult because people who have genuine mental disorders often times don't respond on tests and measures the way you expect them to," he says.

Rogers has received numerous national awards for his research, including the 2008 Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions in Applied Research and the 2011 Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research in Public Policy, both from the American Psychological Association.

He will receive the 2014 UNT Foundation Eminent Faculty Award Sept. 26.

He says the support at UNT has enabled him, in turn, to build national recognition for UNT's achievements among researchers at top-tiered universities.

"In the last decade, the culture of UNT has changed dramatically," Rogers says. "Research was always considered important, but the leadership here has taken steps to make it even more valued and supported. I have experienced a renewed energy and focus because of these efforts."

— Matthew Zabel