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The Miranda Case and the Right to Counsel

In 1966, in Miranda v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that ushered in a period of safeguards and court-imposed restraints on law enforcement's ability to interrogate criminal suspects it takes into custody.

This criminal law case involved a young man, Ernesto Miranda, whom police were investigating for a suspected rape and kidnapping. He confessed after law enforcement interrogated him for more than two hours.

The lower courts convicted Ernesto. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision, ruling that law enforcement should have informed the defendant of his rights when they took him into police custody.

This Supreme Court decision changed the way police departments all over the country behave. From New York to Los Angeles, police officers suddenly had to change the procedure by which they interrogate suspects in custody. The Miranda decision, thus, became one of the most significant criminal justice rulings handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 20th century.

The Miranda decision focused on the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. It also spoke to a suspect's Sixth Amendment right to counsel. One of the most critical limitations the Supreme Court enumerated in the Miranda decision is the prohibition against police interrogations of detained suspects or witnesses after they have invoked their right to counsel.

Read on to learn more about the pivotal Supreme Court case and the right to counsel that Miranda v. Arizona created. This article will discuss what the constitutional rule outlined in Miranda means for you. It will also explain what happens if the police commit a violation of the principles set forth in Miranda.

Miranda Warnings: What's Covered?

So-called Miranda warnings inform suspects of their rights when police arrest them and take them into custody. Most people today are familiar with the language of the typical Miranda warning. Police are required to tell a suspect the following:

  • 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 have an attorney present now and during future questioning.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you free of charge if you wish.

If law enforcement officers fail to read a suspect their Miranda rights, the judge will likely rule any evidence the police obtained after the fact inadmissible at the suspect's criminal trial. A violation of Miranda can make a prosecutor's job far tougher.

It is important to note that this rule only applies to suspects being detained in the United States as a result of a state or federal criminal investigation, regardless of whether the suspect is an American citizen or illegal immigrant. The legal system in other countries does not require a Miranda warning.

What Is the Purpose of the Miranda Warning?

The right to have counsel present during a custodial interrogation protects the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Police must tell a suspect taken into custody for interrogation that they have the right to consult with a lawyer and have their lawyer with them during interrogation.

The U.S. Supreme Court found it necessary to mandate this notice to defendants about their constitutional right to consult with an attorney. The court went one step further and declared that if a defendant is poor, or indigent, the government must appoint a lawyer to represent them.

The court further instructed to police that if a suspect says they want a lawyer, the officer must cease any interrogation or questioning until an attorney is present. Additionally, police must allow the suspect to confer with their attorney and have the attorney present during any subsequent interrogation if the suspect invokes their right to counsel.

Probable Cause and Police Questioning

Law enforcement can arrest you without reading you your Miranda rights. Miranda doesn't protect you from being arrested. Rather, it helps prevent you from unwittingly incriminating yourself during police questioning.

All law enforcement needs to arrest a person is probable cause to believe a suspect has committed a crime. However, if police wish to question a suspect in custody, they must first read them the Miranda warnings and obtain a waiver of their right to remain silent and/or to have counsel present during the questioning.

If law enforcement doesn't follow these rules, the judge will likely deem the suspects' statements inadmissible. The original arrest may still be perfectly legal and valid.

Questions Police May Ask Without a Miranda Warning

Police are allowed to ask certain questions without Mirandizing a suspect. These questions include:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Other questions necessary to establish a person's identity

Police can also give alcohol and drug tests without giving Miranda warnings, but individuals have a right to refuse to answer a police officer's questions.

Can a Suspect Waive Their Miranda Rights?

You may be surprised to learn that many suspects waive their Miranda rights. A suspect can waive this right at several points throughout their criminal case. In some cases, they waive the right to remain silent simply by failing to invoke it with the correct wording.

Rather than make self-incriminating statements, a suspect can demand the presence of an attorney. Or they may choose to stop answering questions altogether. However, per a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, silence can be used as evidence of guilt if a suspect does not explicitly invoke the right to remain silent.

A suspect can waive the rights afforded by Miranda at the time of their arrest. Or they may wait to waive these rights until the middle of the police interrogation.

The critical thing to remember is that you can reinvoke your rights. For example, if an interrogation gets heated, you may decide to call an attorney. Perhaps you have no problem with answering questions at the crime scene but do not want to talk once you arrive at the police station. Statements made before you reinvoked your Miranda rights can still be used against you.

Even if a suspect waives their Miranda rights, if they invoke them later, police must honor their request. If police continue to question the defendant after the rights have been invoked, anything the suspect says after that point may be ruled inadmissible in court.

Because there are so many questions about whether a suspect waived their rights, police officers often ensure they obtain a written statement of the suspect's waiver.

Learn More About the Miranda Case and the Right to Counsel: Talk to a Lawyer

If the police detain and interrogate you, you can choose to say nothing. You also have the right to counsel. If your request is denied or ignored, and the police continue questioning you, they may have violated your civil rights.

Contact a local criminal defense attorney to learn more and discuss your situation. Your attorney can explain how the rules of criminal procedure work and whether the prosecution can use the statements obtained by the police in your case.

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