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Administration of Justice - T. Raber

A guide for ADMJ 1501, 1502, & 1505

Project #2 Example -- Case Brief

What is a Brief?

From Westlaw:

A brief is a written summary of the case. To prepare one, you must distill the case's most important parts and restate them in your own words. The effort will provide a variety of important benefits. First, to describe a case accurately, you must read it carefully and thoroughly. Describing the case in your own words forces you to determine exactly what the courts said, which concepts and facts were essential to its decision, and the proper legal terminology and procedures.

Elements of a Brief

CASE NAME (always underlined, short version)   


I.  FACTS This section should be of sufficient length to spark your memory of the case.  You should also note whether this is a state or federal case, on appeal or original jurisdiction, and who each of the parties are in the case. Do not get overwrapped in the details here–simply the essentials to jog your memory.

II.  ISSUES  This section is best written succinctly in question format and must note which law/laws (statutes) or constitutional issues are being challenged.  The questions should be posed so that they elicit a "yes" or "no" (or maybe!) response.  This section is very brief.  Focus only on those issues that we are examining in this course.  (If the topic of the day is pregnancy and the case also includes a tort liability matter, ignore the irrelevant issue and focus only on the topic at hand.)

III.  DECISION AND ACTION Simply put, answer each of the questions posed in II, and note what the justices ordered (reversed; affirmed; reversed and remanded, etc.)  Also note the decision alignment (6-3; 5-4).  This section is very brief.

IV.  RATIONALE OF MAJORITY DECISION Start with the author's name.  This section is very important and should be a significant intellectual exercise.  You must discuss the basis or justification used by the majority to reach its decision.  Focus on the logic of the main arguments at issue in our course.  Note especially the espousal of new doctrines, application of existing precedent or the Court's outright reversal of previous holdings.

V.  OTHER OPINIONS  If there are any concurring or dissenting opinions, you should note which justice(s) wrote separately and summarize his/her arguments in no more than two sentences per opinion.  Ask yourself why they disagreed with the majority or in the case of concurring opinions, what they had to say that was different from the majority.

VI.  SUMMARY Note here the distinguishing characteristics of the case and why it is important to our line of reasoning in the area under study.  This is not an easy task as it requires you to think beyond the case and to put the case in the context of American politics, government, rights and law.

VII.  MISCELLANEOUS COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS You can note here any questions you may have regarding the case.  Also, leave enough blank space to add further information during class.

How to write a Brief

The purpose of briefing cases is to train you to sift through the material you read and condense it to a manageable size.  Since you will be required to discuss these cases in class, how you prepare your briefs will be critical to your effective participation.  The most common errors in briefing cases are "overbriefing" (writing too many nitty-gritty details) and "underbriefing" (being so skimpy that you can't even recall what the case was about based on your brief.)  A rule of thumb:  one sheet of notebook paper filled on one side should be quite enough if used resourcefully (no skipped lines,etc.).

Caution: You MUST read the case in order to write the brief.  You simply can't fake this assignment.  I strongly recommend that you read and brief the case at one sitting.  Do not put off writing it up as you are likely to forget essential elements.

Resources: "Why and How to Brief a Case" in Albert P. Melone, Researching Constitutional Law, pgs. 55-64.

Example Case Brief with Analysis & Evaluation

Miranda v. Arizona
Dr. Stanford
384 US 436 (1966)
April 24, 2016

I.  FACTS This case represents the consolidation of four cases, in each of which the defendant confessed guilt after being subjected to a variety of interrogation techniques without being informed of his Fifth Amendment rights during an interrogation.

On March 13, 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested in his house and brought to the police station where he was questioned by police officers in connection with a kidnapping and rape. After two hours of interrogation, the police obtained a written confession from Miranda. The written confession was admitted into evidence at trial despite the objection of the defense attorney and the fact that the police officers admitted that they had not advised Miranda of his right to have an attorney present during the interrogation. The jury found Miranda guilty. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed and held that Miranda’s constitutional rights were not violated because he did not specifically request counsel.

Whether the government is required to notify the arrested defendants of their Fifth Amendment constitutional rights against self-incrimination before they interrogate the defendants?

The government needs to notify arrested individuals of their Fifth Amendment constitutional rights, specifically: their right to remain silent; an explanation that anything they say could be used against them in court; their right to counsel; and their right to have counsel appointed to represent them if necessary. Without this notification, anything admitted by an arrestee in an interrogation will not be admissible in court.

5-4 decision for Miranda

IV.  RATIONALE OF MAJORITY DECISION Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the 5-4 majority, concluding that defendant’s interrogation violated the Fifth Amendment. To protect the privilege, the Court reasoned, procedural safeguards were required. A defendant was required to be warned before questioning that he had the right to remain silent, and that anything he said can be used against him in a court of law. A defendant was required to be told that he had the right to an attorney, and if he could not afford an attorney, one was to be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desired. After these warnings were given, a defendant could knowingly and intelligently waive these rights and agree to answer questions or make a statement. Evidence obtained as a result of interrogation was not to be used against a defendant at trial unless the prosecution demonstrated the warnings were given, and knowingly and intelligently waived. 

V.  OTHER OPINIONS  Justice Tom C. Clark wrote a dissenting opinion in which he argued that the majority’s opinion created an unnecessarily strict interpretation of the Fifth Amendment that curtails the ability of the police to effectively execute their duties. He wrote that the state should have the burden to prove that the suspect was aware of his rights during the interrogation, but that statements resulting from interrogation should not be automatically excluded if the suspect was not explicitly informed of his rights. In his separate dissenting opinion, Justice John M. Harlan wrote that the judicial precedent and legislative history surrounding the Fifth Amendment does not support the view that the Fifth Amendment prohibits all pressure on the suspect. He also argued that there was no legal precedent to support the requirement to specifically inform suspects of their rights. Justices Potter Stewart and Byron R. White joined in the dissent.

Justice White wrote a separate dissent in which he argued that the Fifth Amendment only protects defendants from giving self-incriminating testimony if explicitly compelled to do so. He argued that custodial interrogation was not inherently coercive and did not require such a broad interpretation of the protections of the Fifth Amendment. Such an interpretation harms the criminal process by destroying the credibility of confessions. Justices Harlan and Stewart joined in the dissenting opinion.

VI.  SUMMARY The majority notes that once an individual chooses to remain silent or asks to first see an attorney, any interrogation should cease. Further, the individual has the right to stop the interrogation at any time, and the government will not be allowed to argue for an exception to the notification rule.


Analysis & Evaluation

Add an evaluation of the case brief and apply it to the criminal justice process/system.


Miranda v. Arizona. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved February 24, 2023, from