We all know those Miranda warnings from TV shows when cops put handcuffs on the suspect and lead him away. If you watch “Law & Order,” you know that failure by the police to recite them is often used by criminal defense attorneys to get their clients off the hook.
However, Miranda rights are a cornerstone of the American justice system. They stem from the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Although there are many exceptions, nuances, and limitations to the Miranda rules, they generally protect each suspect’s right to counsel and right not to incriminate oneself.
Here are some basic facts about Miranda rights and how they may help you if you face criminal prosecution.
A Supreme Court decision in 1966 established Miranda rights when it held that the police must inform anyone under custodial arrest of certain rights as protected by the Constitution.
If you get arrested, the authorities must tell you the following:
The Supreme Court found that if police fail to inform a suspect of these rights, and they elicit evidence from that suspect, that evidence may not be used in court to convict the suspect.
Lawyers representing individuals accused of crimes often use the failure to adequately inform suspects of their Miranda rights in their defense arguments. It can be a strong bargaining chip in plea negotiations.
Historically, the Miranda decision took place in an era when the courts wanted to protect the rights of individuals against overreach by the police and the government. At a time when many minorities and others were subject to unequal treatment by the police, it was important to establish that everyone had the same basic rights under the law.
Miranda rights are integral to our legal system. They establish that we all have certain rights when we face the full force of the law. We may waive these rights, but if we do so, we should know what we are waiving when we do so.
Legally, Miranda rights are important because they prevent misconduct by the police. If the police do not follow the rules, a judge may throw out the evidence necessary to convict and even dismiss the case.
Miranda rights protect people who may not know their rights under the law, like juveniles. If police bring a young person into the station for questioning, the suspect may anything to get the police to let them go. Often juveniles have extra protections under the law, such as the right to have a parent present.
If you are in police custody and they interrogate you, they must inform you that you have the right to remain silent. If the police fail to tell you that, and the consequences of waiving that right, anything they learn from your conversation may be excluded from the trial. This is otherwise known as the exclusionary rule.
Say you get arrested and you divulge incriminating details like the fact that you had three drinks before getting into the car. If the police failed to read you your rights, your lawyer may ask the court to exclude your statements.
Say the cops bring you in for questioning and you tell them that your friend has illegal drugs in his house. They conduct a search and find drugs. If they failed to give Miranda warnings, the court may exclude whatever they found in the search.
The results of the illegal search are considered “fruit from the poisonous tree.”
However, the court will allow evidence if the police would have found it anyway.
Many people in trouble with the law think that if the police did not read them their rights, they will be let go. It is not that simple.
Miranda rights only apply when someone is in custody. If the police ask you to come in and talk to the cops and you do so, your presence is voluntary. If you can leave at any time, you do not have the right to assert your Miranda rights if you then say something that incriminates you.
Of course, being summoned by the police doesn’t always feel voluntary. Many people do not know they have the right to say no, or call a lawyer.
Even if your confession is thrown out under the exclusionary rule, the prosecutor may have other evidence that can put you behind bars. Witness reports and security camera footage may show you committing the crime. Then it doesn’t matter what you may or may not have said to the police under questioning.
Failure to give Miranda warnings gives your defense attorney significant bargaining power. They may be able to negotiate a lower charge for you by showing that the police did not follow the rules.
Like so many factors in a criminal case, a policeman’s failure to read you your Miranda rights does not necessarily exonerate you from all charges. Your defense will rest on many issues and details of the individual case.
You should always be cognizant of your Miranda rights, in case you are ever summoned by the police and whether their suspicions have any foundation or not. You have the right to refuse to answer any questions until you speak to a lawyer. (That is usually our recommended approach under any circumstances).
If you have questions about what you should do if you are contacted by the police, or if you are facing criminal charges, we can help. Feel free to contact us. We can assess the situation and provide counsel on your best defense.