What words are you likely to hear at least once during every episode of a procedural crime drama? “You have the right to remain silent.” Those words mark the beginning of the Miranda warning. Arresting officers must repeat those words (or similar phrases) to every suspect they arrest before they perform any interrogation.
If you’ve watched enough crime TV, you probably know the standard Miranda warning by heart. But you might not know why the US government guarantees those rights, where they got the name “Miranda,” or how they apply in special cases. You’ll learn all that and more as we examine what everyone should know about Miranda rights.
Origins in the Bill of Rights
The Miranda warning originates in one of America’s most important legal documents, the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights outlines fundamental rights the Founding Fathers wanted to guarantee to US citizens and others subject to US law.
In the Bill of Rights, amendments 5 and 6 include rights that the Miranda warning describes in more detail. Those rights include:
- The right to remain silent. People are not required to make statements that could incriminate them. Police officers must tell people under arrest that what they say becomes evidence. Those statements can be used against them if they are charged with a crime. People also exercise this right when they invoke the 5th amendment on the witness stand during a trial or hearing.
- The right to an attorney. The 6th amendment guarantees legal counsel to anyone undergoing criminal prosecution in the US. In cases where people cannot afford an attorney, the court can appoint a public defender to provide legal assistance. This right includes the right to have a lawyer present during questioning, not just during a trial.
Miranda v. Arizona
Although Miranda rights date back to the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1787, police officers didn’t regularly recite those rights until 1966. That’s when the Supreme Court ruled on the case known as Miranda v. Arizona. But who is Miranda? And why was he suing the state of Arizona?
In March 1963, police officers in Phoenix, Arizona arrested Ernesto Miranda on charges of rape, robbery, and kidnapping. Police interrogated him (without a lawyer) for two hours, and Miranda confessed to committing the crimes. Miranda later tried to
recant his confession, but was later convicted based solely on that confession. The court sentenced him to 20 to 30 years in prison.
On appeal, Miranda and his new legal counsel contended that his confession was inadmissible. Why? Police officers hadn’t informed Miranda of his rights to remain silent and have a lawyer present during his questioning. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Miranda-and the Miranda warning was born.
Miranda Rights in Practice
Miranda v. Arizona is a landmark case in American civil rights because it made reading suspects their rights a mandatory practice before interrogation. However, Miranda rights are a little more complex in practice than they appear on TV. Here are a few special scenarios to be aware of:
If police don’t state a person’s Miranda rights before questioning: Technically, police don’t have to tell you your Miranda rights unless you are in custody. You are only in custody if police prevent you from leaving or acting entirely under your own free will. For those who are in custody, police officers are usually careful to give a Miranda warning right away. Anything a suspect says before police give a Miranda warning may not be admissible as evidence.
For those who aren’t in custody, police might not give a formal Miranda warning before asking questions. Usually, police only do this when people aren’t likely to say anything self-incriminating. But, whatever they say could still be used in court against them or someone else. By answering police questions under those conditions, individuals partially waive their Miranda rights. They can start exercising them at any time, either by refusing to answer further questions or by refusing to say more without a lawyer present.
If a person is booked for a crime but not questioned: A booking officer generally doesn’t have to inform a suspect of his or her Miranda rights. That’s because the booking process only involves collecting basic identifying information. Booking officers don’t typically ask questions that prompt self-incriminating responses.
If a suspect didn’t understand the Miranda rights due to intoxication: Say a police officer arrests someone for a DUI and states the Miranda rights. If that person then says something incriminating, has he or she waived the Miranda rights? Maybe. When people waive their Miranda rights, they should do so “voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently.” It’s hard to say how much those traits apply in cases of intoxication or drug use, and the courts usually decide this on a case-by-case basis.
If public safety is in danger: Police may not have to read a suspect the Miranda rights before asking about the location of a gun or bomb. Usually this exception only matters if a suspect has a weapon or dangerous item. Even then, a police officer’s questions must focus only on the security matters, not on other aspects of the alleged crime.
Whether or not you ever hear the words “You have the right to remain silent” spoken to you, it’s important to have a basic understanding of your Miranda rights. That way you can protect yourself from self-incriminating statements and get proper legal advice. In addition to a good lawyer, seek assistance from a reputable bail bond company.