Miranda rights – when they matter
The name “Miranda” comes from the 1966 Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436. Miranda warnings are what police must inform a person of who is in custody before interrogation. The Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “no person …shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” In that case, the Court set guidelines for police to follow in order to protect defendants’ rights. The Tennessee State Constitution likewise guarantees, in Article 1, section 9, that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused …shall not be compelled to give evidence against himself.”
What happens when your Miranda Rights are not given to you?
Many people believe that if they are arrested and are not “read their rights,” they can get off. This is not true. But if the police fail to read a suspect his or her Miranda rights, the prosecution may not be able to use anything a defendant says as evidence against him at trial. However, there is no guarantee that the police’s failure to provide Miranda warnings will result in the exclusion of a “dirty” confession. Other evidence that is acquired independent of a “dirty” confession can be used at trial, and the failure to give the Miranda warning does not automatically end the prosecution’s case.
What are your Miranda Rights?
This is a general rendition of your Miranda warning:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- If you do say anything, what you say can be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during any questioning.
- If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire.
When is the Miranda warning required?
It doesn’t matter whether an interrogation occurs in a jail, at the scene of a crime, on a busy downtown street, or the middle of an open field: once a person is in custody, the police must read him his Miranda rights.
This is the tricky part–If a person is not in police custody, no Miranda warning is required and anything the person says can be used at trial if the person is later charged with a crime. This most often comes up when the police stop someone on the street to question him or her about a recent crime and the person blurts out information before the police have an opportunity to deliver the warning or even formally arrest him.
Generally, with a few exceptions, a person does not have to answer questions by a policeman and a person cannot be arrested for simply refusing to answer police questions. In fact, a person who may feel intimidated by police questioning may politely refuse to answer questions and can even request an attorney.
This does not mean one can refuse to show a police officer a driver’s license during a traffic stop or refuse to submit to a test during a suspected DUI stop.
If you find yourself in custody, do yourself a favor: be polite to the officers and assert your right to be silent when being questioned after an arrest, at least until after consulting an attorney. Suspects all too frequently unwittingly reveal information that is later used as evidence of their guilt. If you are arrested, exercise your rights. The police are required to give Miranda warnings for a reason. After an arrest, assert your right to remain silent and consult with a lawyer.