One comment that keeps coming up from clients is, “they never read me my Miranda rights, this case should get thrown out, right?" My response is invariably – it’s more complicated than that.

In this article, I will explain what the Miranda warnings are, when they need to be used by law enforcement, and what happens if law enforcement fails to use them.

1) The Miranda Warnings – One principle that sets the US Criminal Justice System apart from other systems is the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not incriminate oneself. In order for this principle to matter, the US Supreme Court has said that when arresting a suspect, law enforcement must read the Miranda Warnings to the suspect so that he or she is aware of his or her rights. While each jurisdiction has its own specific version of the Miranda Warnings, they typical warnings provide:

  • You have the right to remain silent;

  • Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in the court of law;

  • You have the right to an attorney;

  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you;

  • Do you understand these rights I have just read to you;

The law enforcement officer generally reads the warnings from a card. If you are read these warnings, keep note as to how the officer recalled them.

2) When Must Miranda be Read – Many think that during any encounter with law enforcement, the officer must read Miranda – this is not true. Miranda must be read when the suspect is: 1) in CUSTODY and 2) being INTERROGATED. While the meaning of “interrogated" is generally straight forward (are the questions asked those that one would expect an incriminating statement would be made), whether the suspect is in “custody" is usually the more difficult fact to establish. While most would think they were in custody by feeling pressured by law enforcement not to leave, it’s actually a much higher standard – the functional equivalent to a formal arrest. Generally, hand cuffs and locked doors usually must be involved. However, the law is fluid and can be interpreted in different ways.

3) What a Violation of Miranda Means – When a suspect is in custody AND about to be interrogated, the law enforcement officer questioning the subject must read the Miranda Warnings. If the officer fails to do so, the resulting statements are inadmissible during a criminal trial. So, if the suspect confesses to possessing the drugs, striking the complainant, stealing the widget, etc., that cannot be used as evidence against him.

In addition to that, if the statement leads to physical evidence, that physical evidence is also inadmissible. Therefore, if the stolen widget was found because the suspect said it was hidden in the bushes, both the statement and the widget are inadmissible.

While a violation of Miranda does not necessarily equate to a dismissal of the charge, it can certainly be used to keep out vital evidence. In some instances, it won’t matter. In others, it could mean a dismissal of the charge. And still others, the importance of the violation could fall anywhere in between.

If you have any more questions about the Miranda Warnings or other questions, feel free to contact me at BenGlassLaw.

James S. Abrenio