Most people now-a-days have seen a television police drama in which a suspect is read his Miranda rights. Unfortunately, this familiarity has lured some people into a false sense of security when speaking with police officers. The applicability of Miranda is limited to very precise circumstances, and the police are very adept at getting around a suspect’s Miranda rights.
In 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona that a suspect’s pretrial statement cannot be used against him if it resulted from a “custodial interrogation” by the police unless that suspect was previously informed that:
1. The suspect has the right to remain silent;
2. Anything he says can be used against him at trial;
3. He has the right to the assistance of a lawyer; and
4. If he cannot afford a lawyer, the government will provide him with one.
The Supreme Court was concerned with the inherently coercive nature of police interrogations. Thus, the Supreme Court wanted to ensure a suspect knew the rights he was waiving by speaking to the police.
The Miranda rights embody very important constitutional safeguards against government tyranny. A suspect can remain silent in the face of police questioning because the government carries the burden of proving its case and the suspect is not required to explain himself. However, if a suspect waives his right to silence and speaks to police, that suspect must know that everything said is “on the record” and not confidential. Furthermore, since our criminal justice system is very complex, all suspects are entitled to the assistance of an attorney who can provide important legal advice and guidance. The assistance of an attorney is so essential to the fair and just disposition of law that the government will provide a public defender to those charged with a crime if they cannot otherwise afford a private attorney.
Miranda’s applicability is limited to “custodial interrogations.” A suspect is in “custody” if his freedom of movement is restricted by the police. Thus, a person is considered in police custody when locked in a police car, held in jail, or otherwise unable to leave voluntarily. An “interrogation” occurs when police attempt to elicit an incriminating response from a suspect. Miranda warnings are only required in those situations where a suspect is in custody and responding to police questioning. For example, police need not give Miranda warnings to a suspect who is free to leave the police station at any time. Likewise, Miranda warnings are not required when a suspect spontaneously confesses to a passing police officer.
When a suspect receives his Miranda rights, he has to choose whether to waive his rights and speak to the police or invoke his right to silence and/or right to an attorney. The police must immediately cease questioning whenever the suspect tells the police he wishes to remain silent. However, the police may resume questioning at a later date if they once again give the suspect Miranda warnings and that suspect then waives his right to silence. Also, a suspect who invokes his right to silence in one case does not bar the police from questioning him regarding an entirely different case. The police must also immediately cease questioning whenever a suspect requests to speak to an attorney. Interrogation of that suspect may not resume until after he has spoken with an attorney.
With a few exceptions, when the police violate a suspect’s Miranda rights whatever statement they elicited cannot be used at trial against that suspect. Miranda warnings need not be given when the police question a suspect regarding information necessary to safeguard public safety, such as the placement of a bomb or other imminent threats. Also, an invalid confession obtained prior to Miranda warnings does not taint a later confession which complies with Miranda. Furthermore, an invalid statement under Miranda can be introduced at trial if the defendant testifies to something contrary to the invalid statement.
The law pertaining to Miranda rights is not as straight forward as television shows would lead you to believe. Many suspects make statements to police they later come to regret. A knowledgeable and experienced defense attorney should be able to evaluate Miranda’s applicability to any case and exploit any mistakes made by the police.
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