I. Miranda Rights/Warnings
We all know from every popular police or detective show that when the police arrest a suspect they are required to “read him his rights.” These rights are more commonly known as Miranda Warnings. The requirement that police officers read a suspect his/her Miranda warnings has become so much a part of our culture that the word “mirandize” has even become a recognized verb in the dictionary and most people can recite the warnings by heart.
- You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in court.
- You have the right to an attorney and have an attorney present with you during questioning. If you are indigent and cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for you. (being considered indigent and not being able to afford the cost of an attorney are different issues and usually if you have a job you would only be considered indigent if earn less than a poverty level wage. For a more detailed explanation of your right to an attorney see section on Right to Counsel )
- Do you understand these rights?
- Do you waive these rights and wish to talk with investigators about the matter?
II. Confusion regarding Miranda Rights/Warnings
Despite the fact that most people know what Miranda warnings say; how they are applied and what effect they may have on your criminal case is a complicated analysis and almost always requires the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. In addition, as you will read below, the failure of the police to provide you with your Miranda warnings rarely results in the total dismissal of your criminal case.
III. When do my Miranda rights apply?
Miranda rights apply only when custodial interrogation is performed by law enforcement officials and the person in custody makes verbal statements in response to the questioning.
Custody – Before a person’s Miranda rights apply, they must first be placed in “custody”. While no single definition exists to define custody, if a police officer prevents you, for more than a brief time, from voluntarily leaving an area or significantly restricts your freedom, it is a safe bet is that you are now in “custody”. Some common examples of “custody” include; being handcuffed and placed into the back of a police car, being taken to a police station, being placed into an interrogation room or holding cell with the door locked and without being able to walk out if you wanted. On the other hand some common situations where a person is NOT in custody include brief traffic stops where you remain in your car, voluntarily going into a police station where you are told that you may leave if you wish, approaching or being approached by a police officer on the street in a situation where you could walk away from the officer if you wished, or where a police officer enters your home in response to a call or request for help and is trying to determine what is going on. Without the element of custody incriminating statements given to a law enforcement official can be admitted in a criminal trial against a defendant despite the fact that no police officer ever “read you your rights”.
Interrogation - Once a person has been placed in custody the next element required to trigger your Miranda rights is interrogation. Did the police officers ask you questions? Interrogation typically does not include basic information such as your name or address, however more complicated questions such as “where you were at a specific time”, or “whether you knew that a gun was under the seat of the car” are the types of more direct questions that officers often ask as part of their investigation. The key factor in the concept of interrogation is that the answers you give must be in response to questions, so any spontaneous information you provide without being asked is not covered by your Miranda rights. Often people will talk to police officers while in a police car driving back to a police station or while being processed at the police station. If you offer spontaneous statements to police officers that are not in response to police questioning your statements are not protected by your Miranda rights and they will likely be used against you in a later trial. Also keep in mind there may be a situation where the police do not ask you any questions, in that situation the failure to read you your rights would not be an issue that could be raised in the later criminal trial.
In addition, in order for your Miranda rights to apply, the information sought by police officers must be statements. Things like taking photographs, obtaining hair, blood or saliva samples or making a person appear in a line up are all forms of conduct and not statements so your Miranda rights do not apply.
Law Enforcement Officials – Even if a person is in custody and interrogated their Miranda rights do not apply if the interrogation was not performed by law enforcement officers or agents. Statements given to other non-law enforcement people are not protected by your Miranda rights. These people can include other prisoners, private security guards, private investigators, or private citizens.
IV. What happens if my Miranda rights are violated?
If after analyzing the above issues, it is determined that your Miranda rights have been violated the result will be that any statements you provide will not be admitted against you into evidence in a subsequent criminal trial. The exclusion pertains only to statements or confessions and it will not prevent other forms of evidence like, video surveillance, finger prints, DNA, photos or lab results from being used against you at trial unless the evidence was obtained as a result of your statement (pursuant to the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine). If the prosecutor determines that you could still be convicted based on other evidence and without your statements your case will likely still proceed to trial.
As you can see the issues involved with your Miranda rights are highly complex and not easily answered without first analyzing all the facts and circumstances surrounding your case. Despite what most people believe, not every encounter with a police officer requires that you be “read your rights”. Only statements that are the result of a custodial interrogation by a law enforcement official are subject to the protections of your Miranda rights and even if the police fail to provide you with your Miranda warnings in most situations a criminal case can still proceed against you. Therefore it is always critical that you contact an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney.