Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966) continues to evoke confusion by many individuals confronted by the police. Ernesto Miranda, a rape suspect, was arrested and taken to the police station. After two hours of questioning, he signed a written confession and was subsequently found guilty. Miranda appealed his conviction on the grounds that prior to confessing, he had not been informed of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
The United States Supreme Court overturned Miranda’s conviction, finding that the coercive nature of detention in a police situation necessitates certain safeguards in order to ensure that suspects that do not intelligently waive their rights. The ruling held that when law enforcement officers take a suspect into custody with the intention of conducting an interrogation, they must advise the suspect of certain fundamental rights.
(1) The right to remain silent;
(2) Anything you say will be used against you in court;
(3) The right to have an attorney present;
(4) If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided at no cost to you.
This case had broad ramifications for all police officers who are now required to issue these warnings when a person is placed under arrest and will be interrogated. Note also that the officers are required to make sure you understand either each right specifically or in its entirety. In practice, many officers will state, “do you understand” after each right or at the end of the warning—either way has been held to be proper.
We are all aware of the contents of Miranda. It is recited on police shows everyday and many can repeat it verbatim, though often without a clear understanding of its significance. More importantly, as I have seen in my criminal cases, simply ignored, misunderstood or feared. Simply stated, many either turn a “blind eye” or disregard the best course of action for any arrestee: say nothing or seek the help of an attorney.
Keep in mind that the environment that Miranda must be invoked requires custody (arrest) and interrogation (questioning) by law enforcement officers. Hence, if they are not cops, Miranda does not apply. Moreover, statements “volunteered” by the suspect at any time; “spontaneous” statements, or providing basic personal information such as name, address, social security does not require the advisement. I placed quotes on the words volunteer and spontaneous. As a criminal defense attorney, these types of statements are subject to analysis and should be carefully scrutinized if they are truly voluntarily or spontaneously given.