Miranda Rights: What Are They and How Do They Work?
Since 1966, Miranda rights have been one of the most essential parts of a police arrest. These rights help you decide how you want to respond to a police interrogation. Understanding how a Miranda warning works can help you make smart decisions in the unfortunate event of your arrest.
What Are Miranda Rights?
Miranda rights are a common police practice that gets its name from the Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. This case involved a man who voluntarily confessed to a crime yet later wanted to recant his confession after learning about his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The Supreme Court ruled that anyone in police custody has to be made aware of their Fifth Amendment rights prior to police interrogation.
To ensure that these rights are met, police now are supposed to give any arrested person a Miranda warning. This is an official statement that lists all your rights while in police custody. The exact statement can vary a little depending on which state you are in. Different regions have slightly different lists of rights that people have to learn about. The basic Miranda warning informs you that:
- You have the right to remain silent and refuse to respond to questions
- Anything you say, whether in response to a question or not, can be used against you in a court of law
- You have the right to talk to a lawyer before any discussion with the police
- You can choose to have your attorney present during questioning
- If you can’t afford a lawyer, the government is required to appoint one for you before any questioning if you would like a lawyer
- If you choose to talk without consulting a lawyer, you have the right to stop talking and request an attorney at any point during your interrogation
Do You Have to Acknowledge a Miranda Warning?
A Miranda warning is not valid simply because the officer states a list of rights somewhere within your vicinity. It only goes into effect once you acknowledge that you heard and understood the warning. This is why many states will require officers to ask, “do you understand these rights?” after providing the basic Miranda warning.
Keep in mind that it is possible to acknowledge a Miranda warning without saying “yes” to the officer’s question. The Supreme Court has ruled that suspects who purposefully refuse to sign something acknowledging their Miranda rights are still recognizing that they received the warning and are voluntarily waiving their rights. The only way to avoid acknowledging a Miranda warning is to either not respond or say you do not understand.
When Do Miranda Rights Apply?
Miranda rights might sound fairly broad, but they are only relevant in a few specific situations. A Miranda warning is required if you are in police custody and under interrogation. Any remarks you make outside of those situations do not require one.
Typically, a Miranda warning is administered at an arrest. Officers are only required to give a warning when they are restricting your freedom. This means that an officer doesn’t have to give you a Miranda warning before walking up to you on the street and asking you a question. A Miranda warning is also only required for the police interrogation itself. You are still required to answer basic questions about your identity when you are booked, but you are not required to answer questions related to the crime in any way.
Keep in mind that a Miranda warning can be invalidated if a police officer uses intimidation in their interrogation. Even if you acknowledged your rights and chose to talk to the police, things you say might be thrown out of court if the officer used intimidation to obtain them. In addition to physical violence, intimidation can include things like denying a suspect sleep, food, or medical care. It can also include threatening violence or using psychological tactics like putting someone under a bright light for hours.
What Happens If the Officer Doesn’t Provide Your Miranda Warning?
Why are Miranda warnings so important? Your Morristown criminal defense lawyer will talk to you about them because they affect the evidence the police collect. A Miranda warning is meant to inform a suspect of their rights and give them the option of talking to a criminal defense attorney or remaining silent while the police ask about their potential involvement in a crime.
Any information you give after the police failed to provide a Miranda warning at the appropriate time may be invalid. Though the police will have a record of it, they cannot present this record in court. The prosecutor cannot bring it up, and the jury is not allowed to know about the evidence while making their decision. This rule applies to things that you say. So if you admit to the crime without knowing your Miranda rights, your confession would be thrown out. Furthermore, if you admitted something potentially incriminating, like hating a person who was murdered, the prosecutors at your criminal trial could not bring up what you said in court.
However, a lack of a Miranda warning will not invalidate tangible evidence the police acquire due to their illegal questioning. For example, if you told the police you had an illegally purchased gun under your bed, they would be able to go get this gun and then use the gun as evidence even though the prosecutors could not mention that you were the one who told them about the gun. Likewise, the prosecution could still call witnesses against you if they learned about the existence of the witness during an illegal interrogation.
How to Use Miranda Rights to Protect Yourself?
If you are arrested, it is a good idea to take the advice of a Miranda warning and remain silent until your lawyer arrives. Utilizing your rights can help you avoid accidentally incriminating yourself. It is impossible to know what angle the police are taking until they charge you, so even if you do not think you are a suspect, talking to the police may be unwise. Taking the time to talk to a Morristown criminal defense lawyer before discussing anything with the police can help you avoid saying things that incriminate you in a crime.
Even if you did not choose to remain silent until speaking with an attorney, Miranda rights can still be helpful. In some cases where you weren’t told about your rights, your lawyer may be able to invalidate any incriminating confession you made. Keep in mind that Miranda rights are not a “get out of jail free” card, though. The police can still use the evidence they obtained due to their illegal questioning. This is why it is so important to remain silent and avoid talking to the police whether or not they read you your rights.
If you would like to learn more about how Miranda warnings work, the law firm of Gregg Wisotsky is here to help. Our team focuses on providing criminal defense to people in Morristown and surrounding areas. In addition to helping you understand the charges against you, we can work with you to build an effective defense strategy. Call 973-898-0161 or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation.