Local Harold Berliner who co-wrote Miranda Warning dies

Harold Berliner

Harold Berliner, Nevada County’s longtime district attorney who helped write the famous Miranda Warning, has died, his daughter Judith confirmed to me on Monday. He was 86.

You can expect to read Harold’s obituary and memories of his rich life in many major publications in coming days as word of his passing becomes known. (I will link to them as they appear).

Berliner was our county’s district attorney for 17 years (1957-1973) and one of its most famous residents. Though famous for his co-authorship of the Miranda warning, Berliner also was known internationally in the world of printing — a lifelong passion.

“He was friends with Hermann Zapf (the world-famous typeface designer) and some very famous printers,” Judith Berliner said. “People who did business with him didn’t forget him.”

“It was an honor and privilege to know Harold, and it was always a delight to receive an unsolicited phone call or e-mail as he kept his eyes and ears on the local political scene,” local historian and former Nevada City Mayor Steve Cottrell said to me. “He will be missed, but his name will linked with the great ones who have held the office. And if the day arrives when a Nevada County Hall of Fame is established, Harold will doubtless be a charter inductee.”

Cottrell added: “Nevada County has had some outstanding district attorneys, including the first four men who held the office in the 1850s: John McConnell, William Morris Stewart, Niles Searls and Aaron Sargent. McConnell and Stewart later served as State Attorney General, Searls as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, and Stewart and Sargent ascended to the high office of United States Senator.

“But in our county’s modern history, no district attorney left a greater mark on the office than did Harold Berliner.”

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case, Miranda versus Arizona, establishing what is known as the Miranda Rights.

The California DA’s called on Berliner and Doris Maier, then deputy attorney general, to write a simple warning they could read to suspects, and the two of them came up with the famous wording:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned. If you can not afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.”

With his background in publishing, Berliner had the words printed on wallet-sized cards and sold hundreds of thousands of them.

He grew up in San Francisco and received a bachelor’s degree from University of San Francisco and a law degree from the University of Notre Dame.

Berliner arrived in Nevada City in 1945. He bought the shop of a defunct newspaper and established a printing business for fine books, posters and ephemera. He later put his law degree to use as the county DA.

Upon retirement, Berliner returned to the printing business as a hobby. His crowning achievement was “Genesis,” the first book of the bible.

Judith Berliner continued with the printing business, and children Ruth, Teresa and Eric run J.J. Jackson’s, a popular store in historic downtown Nevada City. He also has four other children. Hal, Mary, Ann and Margaret.

(I always enjoyed meeting Berliner in recent years, mostly to talk about the printing world. Just recently, I spoke with Judith about a recent key Supreme Court decision setting aside a strict interpretation of the Miranda “right to remain silent.” Harold was not able to get back to me then).

A celebration of Berliner’s life will be held later this spring.

Editor’s note: Judith helped me confirm the details of this obituary.

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About jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.
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7 Responses to Local Harold Berliner who co-wrote Miranda Warning dies

  1. Pat Wynne says:

    As one whose path crossed occasionally with Harold, my sympathy is with the family. They have lost a patriarch, and the community has lost a fine leader.

  2. Bruce Levy says:

    I am honored to have known him. My best to his family.

  3. Steve Enos says:

    Such a wonderful and interesting man that did so much for his fellow man. He will be missed.

  4. Gail Allinson says:

    He will be missed.

  5. Christine Kelly Golnik says:

    What a legacy. Thoughts to his family. He would be proud of what his children continue to accomplish in Nevada County.

  6. Penel says:

    Harold Berliner, another Nevada County living treasure lost. It was my great pleasure to get to know him, his art collection and his printing accomplishments. My heart goes out to his family.

  7. Rachel Scott says:

    My sympathy to all of Harold Berliner’s family and friends. I got to know him, as he was still casting type as I was beginning to stock my print shop. Harold took the time, cheerfully, to explain to me in detail about “house faces” and how to go about acquiring type in a reasonable rather than haphazard way. I learned a lot from him.

    I chose Bembo for my house face, and an uncial type because I liked the unique look. and ordered different sizes of these fonts from Harold. I bought as much as I thought I could afford at the time, but now wish I had bought far more!

    Harold made a significant contribution to letterpress printing; more than will probably ever be known.

    Best regards,

    Rachel Scott
    Fox Paw Press

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