Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dragnet and Beyond: Your Miranda Rights and What They Mean

I’ve had a request to write about Miranda Warnings (also called your Miranda Rights) and, looking back on the time that I’ve been blogging, I have no idea why I haven’t done a post about the Miranda Warnings yet.  It’s an area of law that is very misunderstood by the public and I’d like to clarify the issues for the 3 of you who read this blog.

Recently, Miranda was a hot topic because of the Boston bombing and the detention of suspects therein – people were confused as to why the police wouldn’t have to give Miranda Warnings up front, and why they would want to wait.

Every TV show since Dragnet has taught Americans that police have to read you your rights as soon as you get arrested.  That’s not exactly true.

I suppose it’s prudent to start at the beginning, so let’s talk a little bit about what Miranda is.

Miranda v. Arizona is the case where the “Miranda Warning” rule was created by the United States Supreme Court.  Some laws are made by congress, some laws are made by courts, some laws are made by local governing entities and some are made by international treaty…the list of law origins goes on.  I’m sure there’s a SchoolHouse Rock about it somewhere on YouTube.  Anyway, the law on Miranda Warnings is a creature of caselaw.  That’s what lawyers call it when a law is made by case (because we are not creative).  And Miranda Warnings are named after Miranda v. Arizona, the case that established that particular rule of law (again, because we are not creative).

Basically, the law says that when police take you into custody (for the purpose of this post only, we will say that “custody” is the same as saying “arrested”) the officer has to explain your rights to you before they question you.

So what are your rights?  Well, at a bare minimum, the police should advise a suspect in custody that they have the right to remain silent, anything they say can be used against them in court, they have the right to an attorney, and if they cannot afford an attorney, an attorney will be provided for them.

“But Greg!?”  Says recently arrested individual learning about Miranda Rights over a disreputable internet blog.  “They didn’t read me my rights when I was arrested!  Can you get the case thrown out!?”

The answer is maybe, but not on those facts alone.  The ramification for a failure to read a suspect their Miranda Rights is that any evidence gleaned as a result of custodial interrogation will not be admissible in court.  So, no.  You don’t automatically just go free. 

If the police question you BEFORE they take you into custody (as they frequently do), they do NOT have to read you Miranda Rights.  Let’s say Officer Bob is walking down the street and smells a strange chemical smell coming from an alley.  He walks down the alley and sees a couple of ruffians up to no good.  Officer Bob asks, “What are you two doing back here?”  “Smokin’ Meth!” they reply.  “Well, then – you’re under arrest.”  Officer Bob never reads the boys their Miranda Rights.

In the preceding scenario, Officer Bob didn’t read the boys their Miranda Rights.  But Miranda v. Arizona wouldn’t preclude the statement “Smokin’ Meth!” from coming into evidence because the boys were not in custody at the time of questioning.  In fact, they were free to leave and did not have to speak to the police officer at the time they were questioned.  If they had shut their meth mouths, they may not have gotten arrested at all.

So – If you are 1) In custody, and 2) The police are going to question you, then the police have to read you your Miranda Rights.

These days, the police often go a step further, and have a custodial suspect sign a waiver of their Miranda Rights.  That way they have tangible evidence that the suspect was informed, and either waived or did not waive their right to remain silent/right to counsel.

That about does it for today.  Next time you watch Dragnet, and Friday reads Miranda, you can quote this entire blog post to your friends.  Seriously, nothing will make you look cooler.

If you have any other questions about Miranda Warnings, or your rights in general, you should call me.  502.618.4949, or you can email me at

1 comment:

  1. do have to read your rights if you are taken in to custody for shoplifting