Written by attorney Ryan P. O'Leary

A Brief Overview of Miranda Warnings and the 6 hour rule

Most Americans are familiar with the Miranda warnings from the seemingly never-ending onslaught of crime-related TV shows and movies. Few Americans have an understanding of the purpose of Miranda warnings and the nuance surrounding them. The Miranda decision came at a time in America where police where engaging in all sorts of deceit and coercive tactics to get suspects to admit to crimes they may or may not have committed. The Miranda decision held that suspects must be apprised of certain rights that they have before any “custodial interrogation" can begin. These rights are what you know as the Miranda warnings.

The idea was that by warning a suspect that they have these rights then their will cannot be overborne. Therefore, there will be no more false confessions. While it hasn’t quite eliminated the phenomenon of false confessions it has made confessions more reliable. The cases following Miranda are some of the most comprehensive and nuanced areas of law. These cases had to decide what “custodial" and “interrogation" meant so we could apply Miranda. For instance, “custody" does not necessarily mean that you have been arrested or are even at the police station. “Custody" just means that the person being interrogated does not feel free to leave. You could be in your own home but surrounded by police and be in custody. The law has even broken down interrogation to not necessarily mean questioning but anything that the police know or should know may produce an incriminating response. Miranda’s complexity leads to new issues arising frequently.

In Commonwealth v. Rosario, 422 Mass. 48 (1996) the police delayed the arraignment of the defendant in order to try and get a confession out of him. This case created what is called the “6 hour rule". Basically a defendant must be brought to court within 6 hours of arrest. If this is not possible after 6 hours any questioning is inadmissible, even if the defendant waives his Miranda rights at that point. The issue of unsolicited statements of a defendant after 6 hours was left unsolved until the other day. In Commonwealth v. Fortunato, Lawyers Weekly No. 10-179-13 (2013), the defendant made unsolicited statements after being in custody for more than 6 hours. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decided to uphold the 6-hour rule even in this instance. Any statements made after being in custody and subjected to questioning for more than 6 hours are inadmissible even if the statements were unsolicited after a break in questioning.

Finally,there is a common misbelief in popular American culture that a violation of Miranda rights means a get of jail free card and an automatic not guilty verdict. Instead, a Miranda violation simply triggers the exclusionary rule. Any statements or evidence that is gathered in violation of Miranda is suppressed, meaning it is not eligible to be used as evidence at trial. For example, the police arrive and find a man holding a smoking gun and another person dead with a gunshot wound. The police arrest the suspect and start questioning him with out giving him Miranda warnings, at which point the suspect confesses. The only thing that would not be admissible at trial would be his confession. Miranda is an important reminder of our civil rights and a valuable check of police power but it is not a crutch.

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