How Your Miranda Rights Protect You

Today marks the 51st anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona. 384 U.S. 436 (1966). This case is significant because it recognizes the duty of law enforcement officers to inform a person of their 5th Amendment rights. As a result of this case, Miranda warnings, as they have become known, are now a key component in protecting your 5th Amendment rights to remain silent and be represented by an attorney during questioning.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are being asked questions by a police officer or other type of law enforcement officer, two thoughts may enter your head. First, what are my rights; and second, when must I be told of them?

If you watch TV, chances are high that you have seen a police officer "read" someone their Miranda rights. The scene is generally the same. The officer puts the person in handcuffs and at the same time recites some version of the familiar phrase: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will, be used against you in the court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?"

Television seems to give a plain answer to the "what" and "when" questions. The problem is, that oftentimes, encounters with police do not involve being immediately placed in handcuffs and read your rights. So exactly when are your rights supposed to be read to you? And what exactly are your rights?

The United States Supreme Court answered these questions in 1966 in Miranda v. Arizona. 384 U.S. 436. The Court said that if you are in police custody, you must be told of your constitutional rights to be free from self-incrimination and your right to an attorney. The two conditions that invoke the protection of these rights are:

1. You are in police custody; and
2. You are subject to interrogation.

Unless these conditions have been met, law enforcement is under no obligation to read you these rights. If you are not in custody, or are not being interrogated and you describe criminal activity to a police officer, those statements may be used against you. Also, if you have been read your Miranda rights, you may waive the protection of these rights by continuing to talk to law enforcement without an attorney present.

What does being "in custody" mean? The obvious situation is when you have been placed in handcuffs and placed into a cell. However, this is not the only situation. The test courts use is "would a reasonable person in this situation feel like they are not free to leave." If you are ever in doubt about whether or not you are in custody, ask the officer if you are free to leave. If the answer is no, then you are likely in police custody.

Once in police custody, you must be subjected to interrogation for your rights to be invoked. Giving personal information such as your name and address does not count as being interrogated. Interrogations seek to illicit responses that would incriminate you. If your truthful response to a question would give information about your potential role in criminal activity, you are likely being interrogated.

If you find yourself in a situation where law enforcement is investigating a crime, whether you are involved directly, indirectly or not at all, statements you make to police can be used against you. While Miranda only applies to custodial statements, you always have the protection of the Constitution. Therefore, even if you are not in custody, you are able to remain silent and have your attorney present before any questioning. Should you or a loved one ever be concerned about talking to law enforcement for any reason, contact the Law Offices of Robert Levine, before you make any statements.

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