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Miranda Warnings and Police Questioning

Through pop culture, most Americans know that police must read Miranda rights to a criminal suspect. What most Americans do not know, however, is precisely what their Miranda rights are and when they apply.

A common misconception is that Miranda rights provide rights to a suspect. Instead, Miranda rights inform a suspect of their constitutional rights. These particular rights originate from the Fifth and Sixth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Miranda rights, also known as Miranda warnings, are what law enforcement officials tell a suspect about the following rights:

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of decisions that modified the rules surrounding Miranda rights. These decisions have significantly affected the circumstances under which Miranda protections apply.

Miranda Rights Explained

The Miranda warnings originated in a 1966 Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. The Supreme Court's decision in Miranda highlighted the importance of a criminal suspect's constitutional rights. Law enforcement officers must read these rights to a criminal suspect before questioning a suspect in custody.

The case set forth the following, known as Miranda rights:

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult with a lawyer, and you can have that lawyer present during the interrogation.
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you.
  • You can invoke your right to silence before or during an interrogation. If you do so, the interrogation must stop.
  • You can invoke your right to have an attorney present. If you do so, the interrogation must cease.

Variations on Traditional Miranda Warnings

The last two points from above are often omitted in pop culture references. Many states have their own variations of Miranda requirements. Thus, the language may differ slightly from one police department or jurisdiction to another.

The most common addition to these core Miranda rights is to end the traditional warning with a question like: "Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?" A suspect must respond that they understand their rights before police questioning begins. In states with this custom, courts will not interpret a suspect's silence as a sufficient acknowledgment of the Miranda warning.

The United States Supreme Court firmly established this principle in a 2010 decision, Berghuis v. Thompkins. In that case, a murder suspect refused to sign an acknowledgment of his Miranda rights. Later, he made statements during police questioning. The prosecution then used those statements against him in his criminal case.

The court ruled that the suspect bore the burden of invoking his Miranda rights. The court ruled that the suspect's failure to sign the acknowledgment essentially amounted to a waiver of those rights. A suspect who waives their rights loses the protection against self-incrimination.

Miranda Warnings Do Not Always Apply

There are two essential prerequisites before the police are required to issue a Miranda warning to a suspect:

It is crucial to understand these prerequisites of custodial interrogation. If you are not formally in police custody, and police have yet to begin interrogation, the police do not have to give you a Miranda warning.

Police Custody

"Police custody" is generally defined as any time the police significantly deprive you of your freedom of action. Realistically, though, it refers to an arrest. Some jurisdictions treat detentions differently from arrests. A Miranda warning is not required in such a situation.

Generally speaking, police must arrest you before they are required to administer a Miranda warning. A traffic stop or a police officer walking up to you and asking questions is not considered police custody.

Police Interrogation

Finally, it's worth noting that the Miranda warnings must come before police begin interrogating you. Thus, until the interrogation starts, you are not necessarily owed a Miranda warning. A request for identification is generally not considered an interrogation. The police have not placed you into custody simply by asking about your identity. In most cases, you must give a police officer your full name upon request.

Thus, police do not need to Mirandize you to ask simple questions. But when their questions may implicate you in a crime, and a "reasonable person" would not feel free to walk away, an interrogation has begun.

In another 2010 case, the U.S. Supreme Court refined the rules for police interrogations. The court ruled that police officers may initiate a second interrogation of a suspect who had previously invoked his Miranda right to remain silent. Police may begin the second interrogation once two weeks have elapsed from the date of the original interrogation.

The Supreme Court ruled that police did not have to give the suspect another Miranda warning. The court decided that the Miranda warning from the previous interrogation remained in effect. Thus, the statements the suspect gave during the second interrogation constituted a waiver of his right to silence.

Failure to Provide a Miranda Warning

What happens if the police fail to apprise you of your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent? In that case, nothing said in response to police questioning during a custodial interrogation can be used against you in court. Any evidence that law enforcement also derives from improper custodial interrogation is inadmissible.

For instance, suppose the police fail to Mirandize you. Their questioning leads them to a murder weapon. That weapon and the contents of that interrogation are both inadmissible in court. However, if they can show that they would have found the weapon without your statements, the court could admit the weapon into evidence.

Physical and Psychological Intimidation

Any admissions you make after police Mirandize you are generally admissible in court. However, police officers cannot intimidate you to get you to make a statement. Law enforcement has used tactics like sleep deprivation to obtain suspect admissions. Law enforcement's use of these tactics can render these statements involuntary. Involuntary statements are not admissible in court.

Discuss Your Questions About Miranda Warnings and Police Questioning With an Attorney

Answering law enforcement's questions can significantly affect your criminal case. Custodial interrogation issues are best handled by an expert criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can provide you with legal advice and answer questions regarding:

  • Defense strategy for pending criminal charges
  • Your legal rights related to police interrogations
  • Police questioning after a DUI incident
  • Criminal law generally
  • Miranda rules

Consider contacting a local criminal defense attorney if you have given a potentially incriminating statement.

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