Most Americans know that they have certain constitutional rights after an arrest. At least those of us who have watched crime dramas on television. Even though many Americans are familiar with these rights, that doesn’t stop the majority of people from inadvertently waiving them after arrest.
In this post, we’ll teach you more about Miranda rights so you avoid waiving them after an arrest.
Table of Contents
What are Miranda Rights?
“Miranda Rights” are fifth amendment and sixth amendment constitutional safeguards. They are read to someone after arrest but before the police interrogation. Miranda Rights protect people from self-incrimination and inform them of their right to an attorney.
There is no specific wording that the police must use to tell someone about their rights. At a minimum, they must explain:
- You have the right to remain silent
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in court
- You have the right to an attorney
- If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one
Usually, the police read these rights from a prewritten card or recite it from their memory.
Why are Miranda Rights important?
Encountering the police is very stressful, especially when you’re arrested. If you’ve done nothing wrong, it’s normal to want to explain the circumstances of your arrest thinking that it’s a big misunderstanding. Unfortunately, this rarely helps and usually does more harm than good.
Miranda Rights are an important reminder that you don’t need to talk to the police. You have the right to be questioned with a lawyer present (or not at all). This keeps people from saying something that they will regret later in court.
Plus, most people don’t know that the police have many tricks up their sleeves designed to make people incriminate themselves. For example, the police can lie and confront suspects with false information. They can also interrogate you for hours at a time without it being considered coercion. By invoking your right to remain silent and have an attorney present, you can save yourself from falling into their traps.
When Do the Police Need to Read Your Miranda Rights?
The police only need to read your Miranda Rights if they plan on interrogating you while you’re in custody. If the police arrest you but aren’t going to ask you any questions, then they don’t need to read your Miranda Rights.
If the police don’t arrest you but want to ask you questions, they don’t need to read your Miranda Rights. Sometimes the police approach people on the street and ask them to voluntarily answer questions so that they don’t need to read the Miranda warnings.
What Happens if You Aren’t Given Your Miranda Rights?
Many people mistakenly believe that your criminal case will be dismissed if the police don’t read your Miranda Rights. This is a myth. If you are subject to custodial interrogation and the police didn’t read your Miranda Rights, what happens depends on what you say.
If you don’t say anything, then usually nothing happens – except maybe a slap on the wrist for the police officer. That’s because even though the police didn’t read your rights, you still invoked your right to remain silent (albeit unknowingly).
If you made incriminating statements to the police after being questioned in custody, then nothing you say can be used against you in court, per the exclusionary rule. However, these statements can still come back to haunt you as there are a few exceptions to the exclusionary rule.
Exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule
Even if the police don’t read your Miranda Rights, there are still some exceptions to the exclusionary rule.
- Tangible Evidence/Witness Discovery: if the police discover evidence of a crime as a result of your statements (like drugs or stolen goods), the evidence can still be used against you in court — if the prosecutor can show that they would have found the evidence regardless of your statements. If your statements lead the police to uncover a witness to the crime, that witness can still testify against you.
- Impeachment: if you testify to something at trial that contradicts what you said to the police, they can use your un-Mirandized statements to impeach your credibility.
- Public Safety: if the police have reason to believe that there is an immediate public safety concern because of a weapon, they can ask a suspect limited questions to mitigate the concern without issuing Miranda. For example, the police can ask a suspect where they ditched the loaded gun if they think someone in the public might find it and get hurt. The prosecution can then use the gun and statements against the defendant in court even though they didn’t issue Miranda warnings.
- Sentencing: if you are convicted of a crime, un-Mirandized statements that you made to the police can be used against you during a sentencing hearing.
Usually, the court will hold a motion hearing before your trial to decide whether or not an exception to Miranda applies in your case.
What Happens If You Waive Your Miranda Rights?
If you knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive Miranda and agree to talk to the police, then your statements can be used against you in court.
An express waiver of Miranda Rights is when a suspect explicitly agrees to waive their rights. Usually, this means signing an official Miranda waiver form acknowledging that you understand your rights and are voluntarily agreeing to answer questions without a lawyer. You can also waive your Miranda rights without signing a document, like by telling the police “okay, I’ll talk.”
Sometimes people waive their Miranda Rights based on their behavior. For example, if the police read your Miranda Rights yet you continue to answer their questions, this is an implied waiver of Miranda. You haven’t agreed to answer questions, but you are doing it even knowing your rights. Furthermore, if you answer some of their questions, but not all of them, this can also be construed as an implied waiver of Miranda.
The best way to avoid waiving your Miranda Rights is to refuse to answer questions and unequivocally request a lawyer. They won’t be able to use your refusal to answer questions against you in court.
When Should You Hire a Lawyer After Being Arrested?
You have the right to a lawyer immediately after being taken into custody. This includes having a lawyer present before agreeing to answer any police questions.
You should immediately hire a criminal defense lawyer after you are arrested, even if the police don’t question you. A good lawyer will insulate you from questioning and advise you about talking to the police. Plus, they can help you in other ways, like filing a bond motion to get you out of jail and negotiating with prosecutors for dismissal.
When you’re taken into custody, it’s the entire power of the government against you. Hiring a lawyer as soon as possible is the best way to regain power and defend yourself.