Miranda warnings are a facet of criminal law that perhaps every citizen is aware of, not because they paid close attention in seventh grade civics class but because every TV show and movie involving the police has at some point in time quoted the famous line “you have the right to remain silent, anything that you say can and will be used against you in a court of law” etc… The actual case from which these rights arise was a famous Arizona case decided by the US Supreme Court in 1966 nearly 50 years ago.  The court held that statements made but a suspect to the police while in-custody will only be admissible later at a trial if prior to making the statements the suspect was advised of his/her right to consult with an attorney prior to or during the questioning and of his/her general right against making statements which may be incriminatory. The ruling also held that the suspect must have been explained the right and indicate that he/she understands the rights and voluntarily waves them.

The frequency with which we hear Miranda warnings mentioned on TV and movies leads the general public to believe that any time the police question any suspect they must first advise them of their Miranda rights. This is a misconception based on mainstream media and not supported by the Supreme Court decision. Miranda requires that an individual be advised of their rights only if they are in-custody and only if they are subjected to interrogation.  For example, Tom is pulled over for a traffic ticket and the officer suspects him of being under the influence of alcohol.  Tom is being legally detained by the officer. He is not free to go. But his is not in-custody (even if he is in handcuffs).  When the officer asks Tom, “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” Tom does not have to be advised of his Miranda warnings prior to that question or before any answer is given. However, if Tom is arrested for DUI and taken into custody, he is technically not just being detained and any questioning that takes place would have to be made only after Miranda warnings have been explained and voluntarily waived by Tom.

The other popular misconception about Miranda warnings is that if Miranda warnings are not given and Miranda rights are violated then that will lead to this dismissal of the case.  Typically, a violation of Miranda only results in a suppression of the statements that were made as a result of the in-custody police interrogation. That means that if an individual is in custody and is interrogated by the police and they make incriminating statements then later, in the trial for the criminal charge that is filed as result of those incriminating statements, those statements would likely be suppressed and not be allowed into evidence because of the violation of Miranda. However the other evidence obtained in the investigation, other than the statements, would still be admissible and the trial would not necessarily be dismissed.  In some circumstances, if evidence is obtained as a result of an illegal confession, it is very likely that the evidence would also be inadmissible.

People often worry that if they invoke their right to remain silent, then that fact will later be used against them as evidence of their guilt. For example, people often worry that if they invoke their right to remain silent that that fact will later be used against them as evidence of their guilt. For example the they believe the prosecutor would be able to argue to a jury or judge later “ladies and gentlemen you should find the defendant guilty because he or she refused to answer questions and only some of his guilty refused to answer questions.”  This type of argument is expressly prohibited by the ruling in Miranda. If you invoke your right to remain silent the police or the prosecutor may think that you have something to hide but they will never be able to tell a trier of fact that you refused to answer questions as evidence of your guilt.

Most people believe that they can talk themselves out of the trouble they are in by making statements to the police. Rarely however does this ever work successfully. Most of the time people think that they are making statements that are only going to be used to help them and will be interpreted by the police as their attempt to explain things in a beneficial way. The Miranda warnings indicate however that “anything that you say can and will be used against you in a court of law”.  Miranda should be worded like this: “anything that you say can be misunderstood or misinterpreted or even misquoted”.  It is extremely difficult later at trial to say “yes I made statements to the police but the police misunderstood what I meant” or “they wrote down what I said the wrong way”.  The only way to truly get your statements out accurately and fairly is to reserve the right to make those statements until trial and not to have the statements made to the police where they can be misunderstood, misconstrued or maligned in some other way.

So, what does all this mean? If you have been or are ever accused of a crime and find yourself the focus of an investigation you should first and foremost always invoke your right to an attorney prior to any questioning by the police. Statements made by a suspect in an investigation against them are oftentimes the most damning and harmful pieces of evidence.  Anything that can be done to suppress or to preclude such statements would generally greatly increase the likelihood of success in a trial on those charges. If you have already been charged with a crime and don’t know whether not statements that you may have made are legally admissible under the Miranda rule, you should seek the advice of counsel to determine whether not the statements are admissible and what if anything can be done to prevent their admission in a subsequent trial or hearing.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact Criminal Law Attorney, Garrett Smith at  480.461.5340  log on to udallshumway.com,  or contact an attorney in your area.