THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT… what it really means.

Filed under: Criminal Law Tags: by Liz @ July 7, 2009

“You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say can and will be used against you.  You have the right to an attorney.  If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.”

We have all heard these rights before…whether it be from watching Cops, Law & Order, or from personal experience.  Legally, they’re called “Miranda Warnings”.  But what do they really mean?  Clients often complain that a law enforcement offer never read them their rights.  People think that alone should be a technicality which gets the client off the hook from any criminal responsibility.  Sorry to report, that just isn’t the case.

Here’s the deal…Miranda warnings have to be read to someone who is 1) in custody and 2) being interrogated.  That means two elements must be present in order for the warnings to kick in – custody and interrogation (or questioning).  When one of those elements is not present, then an officer need not read you your Miranda warnings, and that is acceptable (in most cases, that is.  The law is fluid, so there are always exceptions).

Should an accused be in custody and questioned without being given the Miranda warnings, then the statement should be suppressed or excluded from being entered into evidence.  BUT, if an accused is not being questioned, and simply says things spontaneously, then those statements are admissible, even in the absence of the Miranda warnings.  Similarly, if the Commonwealth can establish that the accused was being interrogated, but was free to leave, or not in custody, then there is no need for the Miranda warnings.

Something everyone should keep in mind is that you NEVER have to talk to law enforcement.  You have an absolute right to remain silent.  No one can force you to give a statement.

As always, the above is not intended as legal advice, rather to inform the public of some nuances of the law. You can read about Miranda Rights here.  Should you have any legal questions, do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Fairlie & Lippy.

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