Anyone who has ever seen a movie or television show about the criminal justice system has heard about Miranda rights. Miranda rights are often misunderstood and seen as more powerful than they actually are. The following is a down and dirty discussion of Miranda rights and what they do and, importantly, what they do not do.
What’s the point of a Miranda warning?
Miranda rights are intended to warn suspects in criminal cases that they have a right not to incriminate themselves when they are in the midst of a police interrogation. This includes the right to have an attorney present during questioning and the right to remain silent.
How do they work?
Miranda rights require that when a suspect is in police custody and says that they do not wish to speak to the police, the interrogation must end immediately. If the person then asks to speak to an attorney, the interrogation must stop completely and cannot be restarted until the suspect has an attorney present.
When do the Miranda rights exist?
The trick with Miranda rights and what most people frequently misunderstand, is that they only apply to a very narrow set of circumstances. Specifically, they only arise in cases where a suspect is in custody and being interrogated by the police. In such cases if you confess the prosecutor will have to show that the confession was not the product of coercion (meaning that it was not forced out of you). The way the prosecutors demonstrate this is by showing that the suspect was properly advised of his or her Miranda rights and that these rights were knowingly waived.
When do the Miranda rights not exist?
Now that we demonstrated an instance where the Miranda rights do come into play let’s discuss the many times that they do not. For instance, police are not required to inform a person of his or her rights when they are voluntarily answering questions. Miranda only applies to cases where the person is under police control and not free to leave.
Miranda rights also do not apply to statements that are made spontaneously, meaning things that you blurt out that are not the direct result of a police interrogation. So if you decide to scream out incriminating information without police prompting, your goose is likely cooked.
What happens if your rights are violated?
Another common misconception regarding Miranda rights is that a violation means the charges are instantly dismissed. Sadly that’s seldom the case. Instead, what happens is the illegally obtained confession is excluded from evidence presented at trial and the rest of the proceedings continue undisturbed.