The right to remain silent, or the Miranda Warning, is a verbal warning that all police officers must give a suspect before s/he is about to be taken into custody. Custody is defined as a formal arrest or the deprivation of freedom where a reasonable person does not feel like s/he can leave. The Miranda right applies the whole time a suspect is in custody.
History of Miranda
The Miranda right is a constitutional right resulting from the famous 1996 Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. In that specific case, Defendant Ernesto Miranda was arrested by the Phoenix Police Department on March 13, 1963, on suspect of kidnapping and rape. After two hours of police interrogation, he signed a confession, and was subsequently convicted. Miranda's lawyer appealed his conviction on the grounds his confession was never fully voluntary and should have been excluded from his prosecution. The Supreme Court held that due to the coercive nature of police interrogations, no confession nor statement could be admissible in Court under the 5th Amendment protection from compelled self-incrimination and 6th Amendment right to a lawyer, unless a suspect knowingly and voluntarily waives his or her rights. It has since then become part of established criminal procedure law to ensure that every Americans' 5th and 6th Amendment rights are not violated.
What This Right Entails
A Miranda warning typically states: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.” The exact wording of the warning may vary as long as the arresting officer reasonably conveys the message. This means that if you are taken into custody for questioning, it is best to not say anything because anything you say can, and will likely be used as evidence against you. Suspects all too often unwittingly reveal information that is later used as evidence of their guilt. Instead, request for a lawyer to speak for you.
Once a suspect expresses his or her desire to retain counsel, s/he may not be subject to further interrogation. This rule applies even if s/he has already consulted with an attorney in the interim. This means even if you have been assigned a lawyer, you have the right to stop answering or request for interrogations to stop until your lawyer arrives again. See Minnick v. Mississippi (1999). Additionally, it is pretty well established that Miranda warnings extend the right to remain silent to juveniles without his or her guardian present. See In re Gault 1979.
Violations and Exceptions to Miranda
It is important to know that if your Miranda rights have been violated, it does not mean you automatically win your case. It just means that the prosecution will not be able to use your statements as evidence in your trial and will have to proceed using other evidence (ie. eyewitness testimony) to reach a conviction. Likewise, the 5th Amendment right from compelled is not absolute and there are certain exceptions where the police do not have to read you your rights. In any of these situations, police can, and will use what you say against you in the courts processes without reading you your rights:
- Basic Questions
Police are still allowed to ask you basic questions not related to a suspected crime such as your name, address, etc. When asked these basic questions, it is best to just answer them but provide no more information than they ask. If police start asking more substantive questions about your involvement in a crime, etc. respectfully decline and request for your lawyer to be present.
- If You Are Not In Custody
It is important to note that police are only required to “mirandize” a suspect if they intend to interrogate that person under custody. This means arrests can still occur without the Miranda warning being given. Only if the police later decide to interrogate you on suspicion of a crime, does their hold on you become custodial. They must then read you your Miranda rights at that time.
- Terry Stops
A Terry stop is an investigative police stop based on reasonable suspicion that a person was engaged in criminal activity, but it is short of probable cause to arrest. Miranda rights generally do not apply to Terry stops or roadside questioning because the suspect is not being taking into custody (ie. traffic stops).
- Threats to Public Safety
As illustrated by the 16 hour interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev regarding his role in the 2012 Boston bombings, the public safety exemption may be called upon only in times of “great danger” to the public. Police may proceed to question you without reading you your rights and providing a lawyer for a limited amount of time if they feel you are a threat to public safety, or have information about a crime threatening the public safety.
- Physical Evidence
Miranda rights only apply to testimonial evidence. If police find a gun with fingerprints on it for example, that is considered real evidence and non-testimonial for the purposes of the 5th Amendment protection and they may use it as evidence against you.
- Confessions to an Undercover Cop
Undercover cops do not have to identify themselves nor read you your rights.
- Inmates Already Incarcerated for Crimes Unrelated to their Current Incarceration
The Supreme Court recently held in 2012 that Miranda rights do not have to be read to inmates when interrogated about crimes unrelated to their current incarceration. In the case of Howes v. Fields (2012), Defendant Randall Lee Fields was denied his motion to suppress his confession of a crime that he committed before he came to prison, because he was not considered to be in “custody” as defined by Miranda v. Arizona. This means that courts today find it adequate if police just clarify that an inmate is ‘free to leave' and terminate their investigation, without the reading of Miranda rights. As such, it is just best to stop talking- even if already incarcerated.
King County and Seattle Miranda Rights Lawyer
Seattle criminal defense lawyer Steve Karimi has been zealously defending people's constitutional rights for decades. As a former prosecutor, he has the experience necessary to be able to identify when Miranda rights and other rights have been violated. Steve Karimi has achieved an outstanding record of results in drunk driving, drug crime, domestic violence and a wide range of other misdemeanor, felony and juvenile cases. If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, you need a strong defense. Call 206-660-6200 to schedule a free initial consultation. Do not fight the legal system alone.