Miranda Rights 101: Your Rights While Being Questioned, Detained, or Arrested by Police

The Miranda rights take their name from the 1966 Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. Films and television have repeated the warning so often that many non-attorneys can recite it from memory. 

The Miranda rights you often hear recited in movies or on TV come from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. The Supreme Court's rulings in Miranda and later cases require law enforcement officers to inform suspects in police custody of their constitutional rights before questioning them.

Click on the links below for in-depth information on Miranda rights, when those rights apply, and more details on the Fifth Amendment and police questioning.

Miranda v. Arizona

The Miranda warning apprises the suspect of the following:

The Miranda warning thus informs a suspect of their right against self-incrimination per the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It also apprises them of their Sixth Amendment right to have a criminal defense attorney present during an interrogation. The law requires police to read Miranda rights to a criminal suspect before they begin a custodial interrogation.

Miranda came out of a group of cases involving confessions given by particularly vulnerable defendants. The Supreme Court found that the police failed to inform the accused of their rights. This failure, the court said, prevented the defendants' confessions from truly being the product of free choice.

Reciting the Miranda warnings is only part of the obligation, though. A defendant must not only receive the warning but also understand it.

Once law enforcement Mirandizes a suspect, officers may begin questioning them. Custodial interrogation occurs after law enforcement takes the arrestee into police custody. Such an interrogation often occurs at the police station.

Miranda Threatened

Although ubiquitous, Miranda rights are not entirely secure from attack. As recently as 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case that threatened to undermine Miranda. In Dickerson v. United States, a district court suppressed the accused's statement because he made it before law enforcement read him the Miranda warning.

A court of appeals found that a post-Miranda statute, part of the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968, made all voluntarily given evidence admissible. The appellate court felt that the act, created by Congress, held precedence over the court's previous interpretation.

The U.S. Supreme Court overruled the appellate court. The Supreme Court held that Congress could not overrule the court's interpretation of constitutional protections. As a result, Miranda remains the governing authority regarding the admissibility of statements made during custodial interrogations.

Invoking and Waiving Miranda Rights

To gain the full protection of the right to remain silent, the suspect must unequivocally invoke the right. Just remaining silent does not mean that police must stop their interrogation. To invoke their right, a suspect can simply state something to the effect of, "I invoke my right to remain silent." The invocation must be clear and unwavering.

If the suspect does not clearly invoke their right, the police may continue to question them. They may also make repeat attempts to question the suspect.

Even if a suspect properly invokes their rights, they can subsequently waive them. For example, suppose a suspect invokes their right to remain silent but subsequently makes voluntary statements to law enforcement. Such voluntary statements indicate a waiver of the previously invoked rights. Thus, the prosecution can likely use such statements in the suspect's criminal trial.

Those accused of a crime should be careful to invoke their Miranda right to silence and avoid an inadvertent waiver of these rights.

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