Understanding Your Miranda Rights

If you’ve ever watched a movie or television show about crime, you’ve probably heard (at least a version of) the Miranda rights: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you at no cost.” Sound familiar?

The truth is that the Miranda Rights go far beyond what you hear in your standard cop show, and it’s important for you to be familiar with them in order to protect your rights in case you are ever charged with a crime. In this article, we’ll explain everything that you need to know about Miranda Rights. 

History of the Miranda Rights

Miranda Rights originate from the United States Supreme Court decision Miranda vs. Arizona in 1966. The case involved a man named Ernesto Miranda who was arrested on criminal charges related to the kidnapping of a young woman. After being brought in for two hours of questioning, Miranda signed a confession and a statement claiming he understood and waived his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. 

However, at trial, Miranda’s attorney argued that Miranda’s confession was coerced by the police because he didn’t fully understand his rights. Miranda was found guilty but his case was escalated to the Supreme Court where it was found that Miranda’s confession should not have been admitted in court because he was not aware of his rights before signing them away. 

As part of the Miranda ruling, the Supreme Court set guidelines that must be followed in order to protect a criminal suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self-incriminating themselves when being arrested. 

According to the Miranda ruling, "The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he or she has the right to remain silent, and that anything the person says may be used against that person in court; the person must be clearly informed that he or she has the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and that, if he or she is indigent, an attorney will be provided at no cost to represent him or her."

There is no precise script for exactly how the Miranda rights must be read or in what order they must be presented. The only requirement is that the arresting officer must read the rights in a way that they are fully and adequately conveyed to the suspect. 

What Are the Miranda Rights?

Below follows a breakdown of the Miranda Rights.

  • You have the right to remain silent - If you invoke the right to remain silent, police must cease questioning you until you have legal counsel present to assist you.
  • Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law - This statement clarifies that anything you do or say while in custody will be observed and recorded and can be used as evidence in future court proceedings.
  • You have the right to an attorney - You have the right to be represented by an attorney. If you request one, the police may not question you until your attorney arrives to provide assistance. 
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you - You still have the right to an attorney even if you cannot afford one. If this is the case, the court must appoint an attorney to represent you at no cost to you. 
  • If you decide to answer questions without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney - Even if you do not invoke the right to an attorney immediately, you can still do so later on. Whenever you assert your right to legal counsel, the police must stop questioning you until your counsel arrives. 
  • Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, are you willing to answer questions without an attorney present? - The most important part of the Miranda rights reading is that you do not waive your rights without fully understanding them first. These questions confirm that you have understood your rights and give permission for the police to question you without legal counsel present. However, as mentioned above, you can suspend questioning if you decide later on that you want to invoke your right to have an attorney present. 

Note that you must formally invoke the Miranda rights. If you do not, the police can proceed with questioning you without an attorney present. 

When the Miranda Rights Must Be Read

It’s important to know that police are not required to read the Miranda Rights any time they arrest somebody, but only if they intend to interrogate the suspect under custody. If the police arrest a person and decide to interrogate them later on, they will have to read them the Miranda Rights at that point. 

If you’re being arrested, you must always answer questions about your name, age, and address. If you give a confession before you’ve been read your Miranda Rights, the confession may be entered as evidence in court. 

Impact of Miranda Rights on Criminal Cases

If you have made incriminating statements without first being read your Miranda Rights, these statements will not be allowed to be used as evidence in court. However, there are many factors influencing this decision including whether or not you were in custody and whether or not the police were interrogating you. The best way to have statements you made rendered inadmissible in court over Miranda Rights issues is to be represented by an experienced criminal attorney who can argue on your behalf.

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