The Truth About Miranda
“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 an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”
One of Hollywood’s most popular genres involves the criminal justice system. From police and lawyer dramas on the big screen, to train wreck television like “Cops” or the ever popular “Law & Order” spinoffs, everybody has witnessed carefully scripted scenes which involve the police taking a suspect into custody and “reading them their rights.” Interestingly enough, many of these programs will also show a heated debate between lawyers and judges arguing over those very same rights, resulting in charges being instantly dismissed (that’s Hollywood for you!)
While art certainly doesn’t always imitate life, the rights that are debated on screen, as in real life, are called the “Miranda Rights and Warnings” which resulted from the landmark 1966 United States Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona.
Undoubtedly, these rights are intended to protect you if you are ever taken into police custody, but many people have the general misconception if they are not Mirandized immediately, the police have made a fatal mistake and the charges must be dismissed. This is not the law. The police are not required to “Mirandize” you simply because they are placing you under arrest, and therefore, the absence of such rights being read, will not result in criminal charges being dismissed or reduced.
The rights and protections associated with these warnings only attach and become required when you are placed into custody AND will be the subject of custodial interrogation. Interrogation does not mean being asked general pedigree type questions such as your name, address or date of birth. If, and when, the officer chooses to question and interrogate you about the crime for which you stand accused, then he must Mirandize you.
Equally important, and sometimes confusing, is when Miranda is not required. The police are not required to advise you of your Miranda rights, and therefore they will not protect to, regarding statements that may have been made before you were arrested. Miranda will also not protect you from any involuntary statements you make after being arrested unless they were in direct response to specific police questioning. Unsolicited statements made by a defendant from the back of the police cruiser will almost always be admissible, so always think before you speak. Or better, don’t speak!
Many police agencies will ask you to sign a form indicating they have made you aware of your Rights, but what happens if the police do err and elicit incriminating statements without properly advising you of your Miranda Rights? The simple answer is any statements made in response to police questioning, can be deemed inadmissible during trial. It does not mean that the case in its entirety will be dismissed. Sorry all you “Detective Benson” fans!
The admissibility of statements is an issue that every attorney has faced, and one that is often ultimately decided by the presiding judge on your case. Many times the police have already established probable cause, and already decided to arrest you, regardless of any statements you may or may not make. Therefore, trying to convince the officer that you only had the quintessential “two drinks” or that you “you’re a good person” is a losing effort that will only damage your case. The best course of action is to simply remain silent, be respectful with the police, and seek experienced and knowledgeable representation immediately.
By Jonna Spilbor, Esq. and Anthony Cillis, Esq.