It appears at times as though every person charged with committing a crime has watched enough police shows on television to know the Miranda warnings by heart. As soon as the suspect is “collared,” the star of the show begins reciting the litany that begins with “you have the right to remain silent.” The problem is that, while most people now know the warnings, few people understand the circumstances under which they must be given.
Ernesto Miranda did not set out to make legal history when he committed a series of crimes in Arizona in 1963. When taken into custody by the local police, Miranda confessed after questioning by detectives. The issue of the voluntariness of the confession eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court in 1966 as Miranda v. Arizona and resulted in the Court throwing out the confession. The Court wrote that it was not clear that Miranda understood his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution before he confessed to the crime.
The Supreme Court wrote that police must advise a suspect of the right to remain silent and that anything said can be used against the person in court. The Court also required that police inform the person of the right to have an attorney present during question and that a lawyer would be appointed by the court if the person could not afford to hire one.
Most people have sat through enough police dramas to know the Miranda rights, but one thing that television and movies do not accurately portray is the circumstances under which the rights must be read to a person. The police are not obligated to read the Miranda warnings to every person arrested and charged with a crime. The following circumstances must exist for the Miranda decision to require that police read the rights to a person:
If police believe they possess enough evidence to convict a person of a crime without eliciting a confession, there is no reason for the police to read the suspect the Miranda rights. If the police are questioning a person under circumstances in which the individual’s freedom of movement is not restricted, there is no reason to read the person the Miranda warnings.
People wishing to exercise their Miranda rights must tell police that they wish to do so. A clear statement that they do not wish to give a statement or that they want to have an attorney present are sufficient to put a halt to further questioning.
To hear more about the Miranda rights and their legal applications, contact Rand Mintzer at 713-862-8880.