Written by attorney John Wood Bussman

Quick Summary of Miranda Rights

I have prepared a very brief explaination of Miranda rights in response to the many, many questions I receive on the subject every day. This summary is just that... a summary. It should not be construed as a complete, definitive guide on the subject and should not be cited for academic purposes.

If you've ever seen somebody get arrested on TV or in the movies, you've seen police officers read Miranda Rights from a little card. Most of us can recite the warning by heart, even if you didn't shell out thousands of dollars for a legal education. They go something like "You have a right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you..."

Miranda rights are named after a defendant in an Arizona rape case (People v. Miranda and Miranda v. Arizona). The defendant in that case was arrested and interrogated. He subsequently confessed to the crimes and his confession was introduced into evidence against him. On appeal, he successfully argued that his constitutional rights had been violated because he had not understood that he had a right to remain silent and that he had a right to an attorney.

The thing to remember about Miranda rights is that they ONLY apply in a VERY NARROW set of circumstances. Your rights have NOT necessarily been violated just because you were arrested and the police failed to read you the Miranda script. That being said, when do Miranda rights apply?

Miranda rights only apply AFTER a custodial arrest. Even then, they only apply if a defendant is interrogated regarding the crime, he or she confesses to the crime, and the prosecution seeks to introduce the confession into evidence against the defendant.

The following are some common situations in which Miranda rights do NOT apply:

-A defendant is arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail. Police never read any Miranda rights. The defendant is not interrogated and does not confess to the crime. The defendant's Miranda rights have NOT been violated here.

-A defendant confesses while talking to police at the scene of the crime, but he or she has not been formally placed under arrest. This can be tricky, because sometimes it's hard to tell whether or not you have been arrested. If the police sit you down on the curb and start asking you questions, it sure feels like you're under arrest. You might even have the handcuffs on and you're not free to leave, but if you haven't been transported anywhere, the court is likely to find that you were simply "detained" and not "arrested". In this situation, your rights have NOT been violated.

-Police ask a suspect to come down to the police station and answer some questions about a crime they are investigating. Police will place the suspect into a room with hidden recording equipment and start asking questions. Sometime during the questioning, police will inform the suspect that he or she is free to leave. If the suspect confesses, his or her rights have NOT been violated because the suspect was not technically "under arrest". Since the suspect was free to leave, his or her rights have NOT been violated.

-A suspect is arrested and, while being transported or while sitting at the jail, he or she blurts out something that sounds like a confession. If the confession is spontaneous and not in direct response to police interrogation, then the statement can and will be introduced into evidence against the defendant, even if he or she did not receive any Miranda warnings.

What happens if I was arrested, transported to jail, interrogated, and I confessed without having been read the Miranda warning?

The remedy for a violation of your Miranda rights is exclusion of the confession. The case is not autmatically dismissed and you don't automatically get to sue the police. You might have a good shot at having your confession thrown out so that the prosecutor may not mention it during trial, however.

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