Law Office of William B. Wynne
2501 Orient Rd., Suite D
Tampa, FL 33619
Law Office of William B. Wynne
2501 Orient Rd., Suite D
Tampa, FL 33619
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?” The implications of this situation can be legally significant. However, before diving into those consequences, it’s crucial to clarify what Miranda Rights truly entail.
Miranda Rights originate from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The case’s roots can be traced back to March 2, 1963, when an 18-year-old Phoenix woman reported a harrowing incident. She claimed she had been abducted, taken to the desert, and raped. Police, acting on her description of the assailant’s vehicle, traced the car’s license plate, which led them to Ernesto Miranda, a man with a previous record for peeping.1
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. Following a two-hour interrogation, Miranda not only confessed to the theft but also to the earlier reported kidnapping and rape. Miranda was never informed that he could remain silent or consult with an attorney. The confession given was brief, and there were inconsistencies between the confession, and the victim’s account. Nevertheless, at his subsequent trial, Miranda’s appointed defense attorney—who was apparently paid a whopping total of $100—didn’t challenge the inconsistencies or call any witnesses, and Miranda was convicted and sentenced to prison.
While in prison, the American Civil Liberties Union championed Miranda’s cause, arguing that his confession was coerced and potentially false. Their efforts culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision on June 13, 1966. The court overturned Miranda’s conviction and established guidelines for how detained suspects are informed of their constitutional rights.2 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.3
Before we delve deeper into the specific application of Miranda Warnings in Florida, it’s important to familiarize ourselves with the exact language used. These carefully crafted sentences are aimed at ensuring your constitutional rights are upheld during interactions with law enforcement. 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.
Police are not required to give Miranda warnings to every potential suspect. Miranda warnings apply only to in-custody interrogations. Hunter v. State, 8 So.3d 1052, 1063 (Fla. 2008). “Interrogation in certain custodial circumstances is inherently coercive and … statements made under those circumstances are inadmissible unless the suspect is specifically warned of his Miranda rights and freely decides to forgo those rights.” New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 654 (1984).
For Miranda purposes, custodial interrogation means “questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.”4 The determination of whether a person was in custody for purposes of Miranda depends on “how a reasonable person in the suspect’s situation would perceive his circumstances.” Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 662 (2004).
The Florida Supreme Court has adopted an objective, reasonable-person framework in determining whether a suspect was in custody. Ross v. State, 45 So.3d 403 (Fla. 2010). It must be evident that, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would feel a restraint of his or her freedom of movement, fairly characterized, so that the suspect would not feel free to leave or to terminate the encounter with police.5 To analyze the case-specific facts that are relevant to determining this issue, the court considers 1) the manner in which police summon the suspect for questioning, 2) the purpose, place, and manner of the interrogation, 3) the extent to which the suspect is confronted with evidence of his or her guilt, and 4) whether the suspect is informed that he or she is free to leave the place of questioning.6
“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. The legal concept of “custody” is much more nuanced than the everyday understanding of the term. In everyday language, being in “custody” might conjure images of being behind bars or in handcuffs, but in the eyes of the law, you could be considered in custody long before you’re formally arrested or restrained.
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. The court’s role here is crucial, as it often has to wade into gray areas. For example, if you’re in a parked car and an officer tap on your window, asking you to roll it down and answer some questions, you might feel like you can’t leave. However, whether or not you’re in custody could depend on various factors such as the tone of the officer, the time of day, and whether they’ve blocked your car. The court will take all these factors into account, apply the reasonable person standard, and then decide if you were in a situation where you should have been read your Miranda rights before questioning.
The Miranda safeguards come into play whenever a person in custody is subjected to either express questioning or its functional equivalent. Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291 (1980). That is to say, the term “interrogation” under Miranda refers not only to express questioning, but also to any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect from the suspect.7 But, since the police surely cannot be held accountable for the unforeseeable results of their words or actions, the definition of interrogation can extend only to words or actions on the part of police officers that they should have known were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.8
On top of the custodial requirement, the suspect must be subject to police interrogation for Miranda warnings to be necessary. Interrogation goes beyond just asking straightforward questions like, “You robbed the bank, didn’t you?” The definition of “interrogation” under Miranda can also include more subtle forms of questioning or even statements that the police should reasonably expect would provoke an incriminating response. For example, an officer saying, “We found your fingerprints all over the crime scene,” could be considered a form of interrogation if the officer should reasonably expect the suspect to make an incriminating reply.
What further complicates this issue is that Miranda rights do not apply when a suspect spontaneously volunteers information. If you blurt out a confession or other incriminating details while in custody but without being interrogated, those statements could be admissible in court. It’s not just the questions that police ask, but how they ask them, the environment in which they’re asked, and even the timing that can all factor into whether something qualifies as an “interrogation.”
Sometimes the lines are blurred, making this a complex area of law. For example, imagine an officer places a suspect in the backseat of a patrol car and intentionally leaves a piece of evidence related to the crime in plain sight, hoping the suspect will make a comment about it. Whether or not this counts as an “interrogation” could be subject to legal debate. The key is whether the police should have known that their actions or statements were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect. If so, Miranda warnings are necessary.
The legal landscape of the United States places a high premium on the protection of individual rights, particularly in situations where a person may be at risk of self-incrimination. In essence, the Miranda warnings play a pivotal role in ensuring these rights are respected. If these warnings are not given when they should have been, it could have significant consequences for the criminal justice process.
Should a person find themselves undergoing custodial interrogation without having been issued the appropriate Miranda warnings, any statements or confessions they make in this context may be suppressed, or in other words, they can be deemed inadmissible in court and not used as evidence against the defendant. This is a powerful measure to ensure that law enforcement agencies comply with the requirement to respect individuals’ rights.
However, it is crucial to understand the specifics of when and where these rules apply. The Miranda rule particularly targets instances where there is both custody and interrogation. Statements that fall outside of this unique intersection are not automatically exempt from being presented as evidence.
For example, should a defendant spontaneously divulge incriminating information before or after a custodial interrogation, and without being prompted by law enforcement, these statements might be admissible in court. The absence of Miranda warnings does not automatically shield all spoken words.
Moreover, while the Miranda rule can shield certain statements, it does not extend its protection to other types of evidence. DNA samples, fingerprints, video footage, physical evidence, and witness testimony, among others, can still be presented in court and used against the defendant, regardless of whether the Miranda warnings were provided. To better illustrate the complexities and consequences of the Miranda warnings in action, let’s take a detour from Florida to the fictional town of Springfield.
Chief Clarence “Clancy” Wiggum is investigating the death of Selma Bouvier, who was tragically killed on her honeymoon. Though typically too lazy and irresponsible to care about enforcing the law, Chief Wiggum has taken a keen interest in the case—primarily because the Springfield doughnut shop was closed that day. Chief Wiggum has zeroed in on Selma’s newlywed husband, Sideshow Bob, as the primary suspect. He devises a theory that Sideshow Bob planned and executed the murder of Selma in a deviant scheme to inherit money she invested in the stock market.
After finding the alleged murder weapon in Sideshow Bob’s car with both his DNA and fingerprints on it, along with security footage of Sideshow Bob attempting to dispose of the body, his suspicions are confirmed. Further, a forensic search of Sideshow Bob’s laptop and home computer uncovers several suspicious google searches, like “how to hide my wife’s dead body,” and “how to kill my wife and inherit her money.” As investigators probe deeper into Sideshow Bob’s personal computer, they find more searches, like “I’m guilty. I killed Selma.” and “look no further, you found the murderer.”
Sideshow Bob is handcuffed, arrested, and brought to the station for questioning. Without reading him his Miranda Warnings, Chief Wiggum interrogates Sideshow Bob for six grueling hours and Sideshow Bob eventually confesses to the murder.
In this situation, Sideshow Bob’s criminal defense lawyer could later move to suppress his confession, due to it being elicited in the absence of Miranda Warnings. Given the facts of this scenario, a court would be inclined to grant such a motion, and Sideshow Bob’s confession would be deemed inadmissible as evidence against him. However, importantly, only the statements that were taken in the absence of Miranda Warnings would be thrown out. All the other evidence (DNA, fingerprints, video surveillance, google searches, etc.) 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.
You’ve journeyed through the history, technicalities, and real-world applications of Miranda Rights in Florida. The fundamental takeaway is straightforward: when in doubt, always invoke your rights. Knowing your rights is the first layer of defense in any legal situation.
If you are being investigated for committing a crime, it’s almost always advisable to refrain from speaking with the police without an attorney present. In nearly every situation, you are better positioned when you invoke your right to remain silent, and your right to consult with an attorney. If you invoke either (or both) of these rights, the questioning must cease, and your rights must be honored.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where your Miranda Rights come into play, remember these key points:
If you’ve been charged with a crime, or if you have any additional questions about Miranda Rights in Florida don’t hesitate to contact our office. Call 813-532-5057 for a free consultation.