Why Is It Called Miranda Rights?
The term “Miranda Rights” comes from a historic 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case called Miranda v. Arizona. The court held that if the police want to question (interrogate) a person in police custody, they must tell them of the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incriminating statements and their right to an attorney.
The following is an overview of your Fifth Amendment Miranda rights, including when police must read you your rights and what happens when they fail to do so.
What Are Your Miranda Rights?
The Miranda warning outlines the following 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 appointed for you
This means you can choose not to answer an officer’s questions and may request an attorney.
When Are Miranda Warnings Used?
While TV shows and movies often show officers giving the Miranda “warning” when they arrest someone, this is not always the reality. A police officer or other official must, by law, tell you the full Miranda warning before custodial interrogation starts. This type of interrogation happens when you are in police custody (when you have been arrested) and are being questioned. It can also be called “adversarial interrogation.”
Police do not always need to warn you about your rights during the arrest or while you are waiting at the jail. Simply being arrested or detained by police (in custody) does not mean you will hear the Miranda warning. You will hear it before the interrogation starts. If you don’t, law enforcement may have to throw out anything said in the interrogation.
In any case, it is advisable to stay silent to avoid saying anything that might make you look guilty whether you hear the warning or not. (Note that you may need to provide identification and answer basic questions.)
Fifth Amendment Miranda Rights at a Glance
Miranda rights are rooted in the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. Petitioner Ernesto Miranda confessed to a violent crime after two hours of police interrogation and signed a statement that he confessed: “with the full knowledge of [my] legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.” However, he was never explained these rights.
The Court ruled that the interrogation was coercive in nature and that he wasn’t informed about his right to an attorney. Therefore, they concluded, he didn’t voluntarily waive these rights when he signed the statement because he didn’t understand his rights. Had he retained legal counsel, he probably wouldn’t have been so forthcoming during the interrogation.
What if the Police Fail to Advise Me of My Miranda Rights?
When police officers question a suspect in custody without first giving the Miranda warning, any statement or confession made is presumed to be involuntary, and can’t be used against the suspect in any criminal case. Any evidence discovered as a result of that statement or confession will likely also be thrown out of the case.
For example, suppose Dan is arrested and, without being read his Miranda rights, is questioned by police officers about a bank robbery. Unaware that he has the right to remain silent, Dan confesses to committing the robbery and tells the police that the money is buried in his backyard. Acting on this information, the police dig up the money.
When Dan’s attorney challenges the confession in court, the judge will likely find it unlawful. This means that not only will the confession be thrown out of the case against Dan, but so will the money itself because it was discovered solely as a result of the unlawful confession.