Law Office of William B. Wynne
2501 Orient Rd., Suite D
Tampa, FL 33619
Office: (813) 532-5057
Certainly, most of us (whether we realize it or not) have seen a suspect given his or her Miranda Rights on television or film. Typically, in these Hollywood scenes, a zealous cop grabs the suspect, slaps handcuffs on his wrists, and cites the iconic lines: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you…” Those rights are known as Miranda Rights.
I’m often presented with the question: “What if the police didn’t read me my rights?” It’s an important question to consider because if that’s the case, there can certainly be meaningful legal consequences. But before we delve into that, it is important to understand just what exactly Miranda Rights are.
Miranda Rights are named after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). It all started on March 2, 1963, when an 18-year-old Phoenix woman told police that she had been abducted, driven to the desert, and raped. During their investigation, the police tracked the license plate number of a car that resembled that of her attacker’s, which brought them to a suspect named Ernesto Miranda, who allegedly had a prior record as a peeping tom. About 10 days later, on March 13, 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested on unrelated charges for allegedly stealing $8.00 from an Arizona bank worker. Miranda was interrogated for at least two hours, and he eventually confessed not only to the robbery, but also to the kidnapping and rape of the 18-year-old Phoenix woman. Miranda was never told that he did not have to speak with police, or that he could consult with an attorney before or during questioning.
The confession given was brief, and there were inconsistencies between the confession, and the victim’s account. At his trial, Miranda’s appointed defense attorney—who was apparently paid a whopping total of $100—didn’t call any witness, and Miranda was convicted and sentenced to prison. Years later in prison, the American Civil Liberties Union took up his appeal and argued that the confession was both false and coerced.
On June 13, 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), which overturned Miranda’s conviction and established guidelines for how detained suspects are informed of their constitutional rights. In their ruling, the justices found that the statements made by Miranda could not be used against him as evidence, because he had not been properly advised of his constitutional rights. In a detailed analysis, the court ruled that before a suspect in custody could be interrogated by police, he had to be advised of certain rights. Specifically, the court held that prior to being interrogated, a suspect must be informed that they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say will be used against them, that they have the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with them during interrogation, and that, if they are indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent them. Id.
On June 13, 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), which overturned Miranda’s conviction and established guidelines for how detained suspects are informed of their constitutional rights.
The standard Miranda Warning is as follows:
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 speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.
With all this in mind, there are a few important things to know. A police officer is not required to give a suspect Miranda Warnings in all scenarios. Generally, police are required to give Miranda Warnings before any custodial interrogation. Therefore, two elements must be established. First, that the suspect was in custody. Second, that he or she was being interrogated. If both are met, then Miranda Warnings must be given. If either or both elements are missing, then Miranda Warnings are not necessary.
“Custody” is generally defined as any situation where a reasonable suspect would not feel free to leave, or where they are deprived of their freedom of action in any significant way. To put it another way, a person is “in custody” if a reasonable person in their situation would perceive their freedom to be curtailed to a degree associated with arrest. What makes this determination tricky, is that not all police encounters are custodial. In fact, many are consensual.
Sometimes this determination is simple. A suspect who is handcuffed and told they are under arrest is clearly in custody. Anytime a police officer tells you not to move, you are in custody. But some situations are much less clear. How about a suspect approached at work by police, told to stop working, then taken to a small room for questioning, but told they were not under arrest? A court would have to decide. In making this determination, the court will use a reasonable person standard and take into consideration the totality of the circumstances.
On top of the custodial requirement, the suspect must be subject to police interrogation. Interrogation is express questioning about suspected criminal activity. For example, “You robbed the bank, didn’t you?” If instead, a suspect volunteers or blurts-out information (without being questioned or prompted by police) this is not interrogation, even if he is in “custody.” Like the first element, this determination can sometimes be tricky. Police can sometimes do or say things, that might not be direct questions, but are intended to elicit incriminating statements. Again, this is a determination for the court.
One of the most important things to understand about Miranda Warnings, is that the failure to give them to a suspect, only excludes any statements he or she makes afterwards.
Example: Homer Simpson is being questioned for murdering his wife Marge. Apparently, Homer became enraged when he learned that she had an affair with Ned Flanders—a handsome, cheery, good natured neighbor. Prior to the questioning, police found the alleged murder weapon in Homer’s car with both his DNA and fingerprints on it. They were also able to obtain security video footage of him disposing of the body, as well as several incriminating google searches made from his laptop. Searches like, “How to hide my wife’s dead body,” and “How to kill my cheating wife.” He is handcuffed, arrested, and brought to the station for questioning. Without reading him his Miranda Warnings, the police interrogate Homer for three hours and Homer confesses to the murder. Homer could later have his confession thrown out, via a motion to suppress by his defense lawyer. But remember, all the other evidence listed above would still be fair game against him. So even if the confession is thrown out, the prosecutor may have enough other evidence to convict him regardless.
If you are being investigated for committing a crime, it is almost always a bad idea to speak with police without an attorney. In nearly every circumstance, you are better off invoking your rights. That is, you right to remain silent, and to be represented by an attorney. If you invoke either (or both) of these rights, the questioning must cease, and your rights must be honored. If you have any more questions about Miranda Warnings, feel free to give us a call. We’d be happy to chat with you.