Reading Your Miranda Rights
Since the 1966 Supreme Court ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, law enforcement officers have been required to read a suspect his rights before conducting a custodial interrogation.
While nearly everyone is familiar with “reading your rights”, there are several common-and important-misunderstandings about Miranda rights and how they affect a criminal case.
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The core of the Miranda decision is the requirement that law enforcement officers advise suspects of certain constitutional rights before conducting a custodial interrogation. This process is commonly known as “reading your rights”.
The statement of rights is familiar to most Americans, even those who have never had any contact with the criminal justice system. It includes two components. The first are commonly known as the “Miranda warnings”.
- 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 a lawyer present with you during questioning
- If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire
- If you do choose to talk to the police, you have the right to end the interview at any time
The second piece confirms that the suspect heard and understood the rights and is making a voluntary decision to speak with law enforcement:
- Do you understand each of these rights as I have explained them to you?
- With these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?
Although most law enforcement officers follow this form precisely, courts have accepted varied language that effectively conveys these rights and establishes “intelligent waiver” of those rights.
Miranda Violations – Exclusion of Evidence
Some of the most common misconceptions about Miranda rights relate to what happens when they’re not read. If a suspect is interrogated in custody without being read his rights, the statement he makes is automatically excluded as evidence. There may be additional effects. For instance, if the suspect’s incriminating statement tells the police where to find other evidence that they wouldn’t have found otherwise, that evidence is also excluded as “fruit of the poisonous tree”.
That means that if a suspect makes a full confession and, in that confession, points the police to physical evidence they would otherwise not have found, none of that information or evidence can be used at trial. Legally, it’s as if the confession never took place.
Miranda Myth: Dropped Charges.
As a practical matter, sometimes charges may be dismissed as the result of suppression of evidence because of a failure to read the Miranda warnings.
Sometimes the prosecution simply may not have enough evidence left to pursue the case. But failure to read a suspect his Miranda rights before questioning does not require the dismissal of charges, only the exclusion of evidence.
Law enforcement officers are only required to read a suspect his rights in a custodial interrogation situation. What constitutes custodial interrogation has been the subject of much litigation in the years since the Miranda decision.
First, not all discussion ‒ or even questioning ‒ constitutes interrogation. Law enforcement officers, particularly when dealing with a suspect who is in custody, will inevitably communicate with that suspect.
They have to inform him of rules, ask him whether he wants something to drink, etc. Those communications are not considered interrogation and do not violate the suspect’s rights, even if he has indicated that he does not want to talk further without an attorney present.
The clearest case, of course, is that of direct questioning of a suspect in custody about the crime.
The flip-side of the idea that not all questioning constitutes interrogation is that not all interrogation requires questioning.
Discussion and actions by law enforcement intended to motivate a suspect to make statements or provide information can constitute interrogation, even though no direct questions are asked.
This principle was initially established in what has become known as the “Christian burial speech” case, though it has been refined and expanded since.
In the “Christian burial speech” case, detectives were transporting a suspect in the murder of a ten-year-old girl.
On the drive, one of the officers told the suspect that he wanted to give him something to think about, and proceeded to speak at length about the weather conditions and the likelihood that, if the girl’s body were not found before the snow came, it would never be located.
The officer instructed the suspect not to say anything, but continued to speak about the girl’s family and their need to give their child a “decent Christian burial”.
The United States Supreme Court held that despite the lack of questioning, despite even the officer’s express instruction that the suspect needn’t say anything, the speech was intended to elicit a confession, and as such constituted interrogation.
When a suspect is and is not in custody is, likewise, not as straightforward as it initially appears. If the suspect has been arrested, he’s clearly in custody, but many interrogation situations don’t fall quite so clearly on one side of the line or the other.
Whether or not a suspect is considered “in custody” is subject to an objective test: whether or not a reasonable person would believe that the officer had conveyed (by words or actions) that the suspect was not free to leave.
- Questioning in a police station may or may not be custodial, depending upon factors like whether the defendant was brought in by police or came in voluntarily to speak with them, where the interrogation is conducted, and whether the suspect has been advised that he is free to leave.
- Questioning in a police car may or may not be custodial, depending upon whether or not the suspect is handcuffed, whether he is in the front or back seat of the car, and whether he entered the car voluntarily, among other factors.
- Miranda rights usually don’t apply to questioning at the scene of an incident or accident. However, circumstances may exist in which such an interrogation would be considered custodial ‒ for instance, if it were clear that the officers were going to arrest one party.
- Questioning in a suspect’s home may or may not be considered custodial depending upon the circumstances of the interview, including the time of day, whether or not the suspect had agreed in advance to the interview, and other factors.
- Miranda warnings are not required for interrogation by an undercover officer whom the suspect does not know to be an officer.
Once a suspect in custody has been read the Miranda warnings, he is free to talk with law enforcement officials or not. The officers are not under a continuing obligation to re-Mirandize the suspect at every turn, so if he comes back half an hour after the initial conversation and says he’s ready to talk, new warnings are advisable but not required.
Likewise, the suspect can change his mind once he’s started to talk. At every stage, he retains the right to call a halt to the interrogation and request an attorney.
Connect with a Local Defense Attorney About Your Miranda Rights
If you are facing police interrogation, you have the right to an attorney. Connecting with a defense lawyer before your questioning may save you worry and help you prepare.
Connect with a criminal defense attorney in your area by filling out our free online evaluation form today.
The above summary of Miranda rights is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. Laws may have changed since our last update. For the latest information on Miranda rights, speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area.