You Have the Right to Remain Silent: What Are Miranda Rights?
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
"You have the right to remain silent." You've probably heard these words on a legal drama or other show when a police officer makes an arrest.
The phrase comes from real and important legal rights known as Miranda rights. Understanding your Miranda rights is critical if you or a loved one are facing criminal charges.
The U.S. Constitution grants critical rights to people accused of crimes. While defendants in criminal cases have many rights, Miranda rights protect recently arrested people who may be interrogated by police.
One of these rights is the right to remain silent, granted by the Fifth Amendment. An arrested person isn't required to speak with police or answer questions. Prosecutors typically can't use a person's refusal to answer questions as evidence against that person.
The other primary Miranda right is the Sixth Amendment right to be represented by an attorney, including having an attorney present during an in-custody interrogation.
Police often advise people of their Miranda rights, just like you see on TV. If police advise you of your Miranda rights, then you've been "Mirandized" or "read your rights." The advisement is also sometimes called a Miranda warning.
Miranda warnings are often given at the time of arrest, but law enforcement can also advise you of these rights at a later time. Sometimes, police may advise a defendant more than once, depending on the jurisdiction or the course of the investigation.
The language of a Miranda warning doesn't have to be exact and often varies by jurisdiction. However, many police departments have a Miranda rights script that officers usually follow. The script helps officers avoid providing an incorrect Miranda warning that could cause problems with their case.
Miranda warnings must generally advise of the following rights:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say could be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning.
- If you can't afford an attorney, one may be appointed.
While federal Miranda rights apply throughout the United States, some states provide additional rights or require their own Miranda warning language.
Miranda rights come from the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. Police arrested a man named Ernesto Miranda for kidnapping and rape. He was questioned and signed a confession, but he hadn't been advised of his rights to refuse questioning or to have an attorney present.
At trial, Miranda's lawyer objected to the confession, arguing that it wasn't truly voluntary since Miranda wasn't aware of his legal rights when he confessed. The judge disagreed, and Miranda was convicted.
However, lawyers appealed the case, which eventually came before the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers do need to advise people of their rights before questioning. The case began the practice of Miranda advisements.
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Despite the importance of the Miranda case and associated rights, police aren't always required to advise suspects of their rights. Police must provide a Miranda warning when all the following apply:
- The suspect is in custody. The law considers a person in custody if they aren't free to leave. Police can speak with many people during the course of an investigation without reading any Miranda warnings if no one is in custody yet.
- The police are questioning the suspect. If police ask questions or engage in conversation likely to elicit a response, then Miranda rights apply. Miranda rights may not apply to genuinely spontaneous statements.
- Prosecutors want to use the statement in court. Failure to Mirandize a suspect prevents information gained from the interrogation from being used in court, but law enforcement can still use other evidence against the suspect.
Courts have also held that there's a public safety exception to the Miranda rule. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that an officer's concern for public safety can excuse a failure to Mirandize a suspect. However, states and courts disagree on what circumstances are enough of a public safety threat to disregard the Miranda rule.
There are some common myths about Miranda rights. One prevalent myth is that the court will dismiss a case if the police don't read Miranda rights as soon as they make an arrest. However, there isn't a requirement for police to Mirandize a person unless all the above circumstances apply.
Many departments read Miranda rights upon every arrest, as they believe this to be the best practice, but there isn't a legal requirement to do so. Police may have enough evidence to prosecute a case without statements from the defendant, and Miranda rights aren't relevant in these cases.
The case may not be thrown out, even if police question a suspect without providing a Miranda advisement. If the police fail to properly Mirandize a suspect before questioning, the defendant or their lawyer can file a motion to suppress the statements. A court may rule that any statements or other evidence obtained from that questioning can't be used in court. Prosecutors are free to proceed with the case using other evidence.
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