Miranda Warnings: Know the Basics

The most common issue I am presented with in initial consultations are Miranda warnings. The Miranda warning is one of the most widely recited quotes in law enforcement (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say…” etc.), yet are probably the most widely misunderstood constitutional guarantees that American citizens have. Here are the basics.

When does a police officer have to read me the Miranda warning?

A police officer must read Miranda warnings prior to “custodial interrogation.” Custodial interrogation consists of two parts: (1) an individual being in “custody”; and (2) an individual being asked questions about the issue.

An individual is considered “in custody” when a reasonable person in a similar situation would not feel free to leave. In other words, if you have handcuffs on, are in the back of a police cruiser, or are otherwise detained by law enforcement, you are “in custody”.

The interrogation component simply means that the officer wants to ask you questions about the event/issue for which you are in custody or being detained.

Does my case get dismissed if a police officer does not read me Miranda warnings when he/she was supposed to?

While it is possible that that your case could be dismissed because the officer failed to read Miranda warnings, it is relatively unlikely.

If an officer fails to read Miranda warnings in a situation where he/she was required to, your attorney will have a valid Motion to Suppress any statements that you made as a result of the failure. That said, not many cases exist where the only evidence of guilt is a defendant’s own statements. Many times there are other pieces of evidence that can potentially prove the case, like eyewitness accounts, DNA, fingerprints, etc.

In the rare circumstance where the only evidence of guilt is a defendant’s statement, a winning Motion to Suppress those statements can result in a dismissal of the case. But again, if there is other potential evidence of guilt, the Prosecution may proceed with the case even without the use of the defendant’s statement(s).

Does an officer have to read Miranda warnings when I am placed under arrest?

No. Not unless he/she desires to have a custodial interrogation (ask questions of you while you are in custody). So, for instance, say a police officer stops you on the street noting that you fit the description of a bank robber and places you under arrest or otherwise detains you. Unless he/she desires to ask you questions about the bank robbery and/or your involvement in it, Miranda warnings are not required prior to taking you into custody.

If an officer (a) places me under arrest, (b) does not advise me of my Miranda warnings, and (c) I make statements on my own on the way back to the jail or station, can those statements later be suppressed?

Generally speaking, no they cannot. A defendant’s statements are exempted from “hearsay” rules in a court of law, and thus are automatically admissible. Further, even if a hearsay challenge were brought, if the officer did not prompt your response with a question or a statement, then you were not under “custodial interrogation”, and thus Miranda does not apply.

The long and short of being in police custody for an alleged violation of law is this: Do not make any statements to law enforcement without first consulting a lawyer. You have a constitutional right to remain silent—utilize it.

If you have questions regarding Miranda warnings, or feel your Miranda rights have been violated, contact Hills at Law, P.C. today.

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