On a daily basis, someone tells me the following “they didn’t even read me my Miranda rights”. Because police television shows and movies have been popular for fifty years; everyone has heard, “You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney….” Even Mom can give a Miranda warning from hearing it so often on television. But does that familiarity help to explain the rights of an accused, or not?
Reality is very different from television and movies. Although what you hear actors saying may be correct; that is where the confusion begins and further it has created an urban legend of misunderstanding in our society. In this blog I will not delve into the history of Miranda v. Arizona. Nor will I discuss in detail what the specific rights are; as noted above, you can probably recite them! What I am going to write about is when do these rights apply to you. In other words, when does a cop have to read you your rights?
The short answer to this question is simple; maybe never. The Miranda rights do not have to be recited you unless two things occur. First, you must be under arrest. Police are generally trained to ask a lot of questions prior to an actual arrest, so watch your words. The Miranda rights do not apply during this questioning and you may incriminate yourself. So, if an officer walks up to you on the street and begins asking questions (and you’re not under arrest); he/she can do that without Miranda being a concern. Anything you say at that time is evidence and can be used against you without violating your rights. Officers are trained to say, “I just have some questions, you’re not under arrest,” just to get people to talk. This tactic is specifically used to get around Miranda. Once the phrase, “you are under arrest,” is said, then Miranda rights may become mandatory.
The Second item is that the police must want to question you. There are times when the police may not need your statement or even care to talk to you. Street cameras sometimes speak for you, for instance. If the police are interested in asking you about a crime, they must give the warning. If they are simply making small talk or asking you what you want for dinner while in jail, there is no need for the warning.
Now you know how Miranda rights apply in a criminal case. Hopefully, I have cleared up this widely misunderstood area of criminal procedure and you can ignore the television shows that use these important rights for dramatic effect. Always remember, you are your best protection, so keep quiet until you talk to your lawyer, like a criminal defense lawyer trusts.