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What are my Miranda Rights?

Mar 02

Here’s a recent question that comes up frequently: “Shane, I was recently charged with a crime but wasn’t read my Miranda rights, doesn’t this mean that the charges should be dropped?”

Due to legal television shows and movies, most people believe that if they are arrested and not read their Miranda rights the court should dismiss their charges. “Miranda rights” were established by the United States Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. The Miranda case held that a warning (stating the suspect has the right to remain silent and has the right to an attorney) must be given to criminal suspects in police custody before they are interrogated. Despite popular belief, the Miranda warning is not a condition of arrest, but rather a safeguard against self-incrimination. As a result, if law enforcement officers do not offer a Miranda warning to an individual in their custody, they may still interrogate that person and act upon the knowledge gained, but may not use that person’s statements to incriminate him in a criminal trial.

Further, Miranda rights only apply when a person is arrested, not when they are merely detained. In Alabama, there is a key difference between a detention and an arrest. If a person is merely being detained by law enforcement and has not been technically arrested, the detainee’s statements may be admissible at trial even though the he was not advised of his rights. Similarly, statements made while an arrest is in progress, before the Miranda warning was given or completed are also generally admissible.

The Miranda rule applies, therefore, only to the use of a suspect’s statements in criminal trials made as a result of a custodial police interrogation. Miranda only works to keep a suspect’s statements out of court, and is not a requirement at any point in the criminal process. Failure of a law enforcement officer to inform a suspect of his Miranda rights, by itself, does not result in dismissal of a criminal charge.

Surprisingly, even when a suspect is read their Miranda rights, they insist on speaking to law enforcement without a lawyer. In fact, many law enforcement officers gain statements, if not full confessions, not having asked a single question. For example, law enforcement officers are allowed to speak at length about evidence collected, witness statements, etc. The officer will then ask if the suspect wishes to talk. Many times the suspect will begin talking at length in an attempt to refute the “evidence” presented. Another tactic commonly used by law enforcement is to do nothing at all; the officer may simply sit the suspect down in an interrogation room, sit across from him, do some paperwork, and wait for the suspect to begin talking. More times that you would think, the suspect just starts talking. You should always, always, always consider talking to an attorney before you give any statement to anyone, pre- or post-Miranda.

This column is intended for general information purposes only. It is not intended, nor should it be construed as personal legal advice. The answers to most legal problems rely on the specific facts of your situation; therefore, it is very important that you personally see a lawyer when these situations arise.