What Are the Miranda Rights?

You’ve just been arrested for disorderly conduct and you’re being led to the police car in handcuffs. The officer starts informing you of your Miranda rights. Just what are those rights and who was Miranda?

Your Miranda rights are based on a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court Ruling (Miranda v. Arizona). The ruling established a legal foundation that a suspect has the right to keep silent during police questioning. It also establishes that any statement made by suspects can’t be used against them unless they’ve been informed of their Miranda rights. It changed the way that police handle arrests.

These rights are based on your Constitutional rights, guaranteed in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. The Fifth Amendment gives a suspect the right to refuse to be a witness against himself or incriminate himself (remember the old movies where they plead the 5th?). The Sixth Amendment guarantees any criminal suspect the right to an attorney (even if they can’t afford one). These civil rights had already been there, but the Miranda case ruling meant that the police have a duty to inform a suspect of their rights. The Miranda rights that are read to a suspect are:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.

Miranda’s Ironic Story

Ernesto Miranda was an immigrant—an eighth grade dropout—living in Arizona. He was arrested in 1963 for armed robbery of a bank worker. He was 22 at the time and already had a record for armed robbery, attempted rape, assault, and burglary. While being questioned, he confessed to kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old woman just 11 days prior to his arrest. He signed a confession admitting this, which stated in a paragraph at the top, that the confession was made with full knowledge of his legal rights, understanding any statement he made may be used against him. However, he didn’t have full knowledge of his rights.

Miranda was convicted of kidnapping and rape (his oral and written testimony were used as evidence), and he was sentenced to 20 to 30 years on each count. But, his lawyers appealed, claiming he had not been informed of his rights before the questioning. The case eventually made it on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They ruled in his favor, and Ernesto went free (for awhile).

The state of Arizona eventually convicted him without the testimony and he served 11 years. He was paroled in 1972 and seemed to enjoy his fame (for Miranda rights) because he took to pedaling signed Miranda cards. In 1974 he was involved in a bar fight and was stabbed to death.

A suspect was questioned for murdering Miranda, but released after he chose to remain silent under his Miranda Rights. After being released he fled to Mexico. It’s ironic to consider that the person likely responsible for killing Miranda was able to get away with it because he exercised his Miranda rights. (I wonder if he had an autographed card when he was brought in for questioning.)

What do the Miranda Rights mean for you?

  • If arrested, it is the duty of the police to inform you of your Miranda rights.
  • Once arrested, you can remain silent during questions.
  • Once arrested, you can request to have an attorney present during questioning.
  • Miranda rights don’t go into effect until after an arrest has been made.
  • Any spontaneous or voluntary statements you make prior to being informed of your Miranda rights could be used against you.
  • Silence can also be used against you if you’re refusing to talk before your Miranda rights are read. In other words, if you remain silent when you are being questioned by the police but have not yet been arrested, this could be used against you.
  • It is best to be cooperative, but politely state “my attorney told me to not speak to law enforcement without speaking with him first.”

Contact me if you’ve been arrested or have any questions about how your Miranda rights apply to your situation.

Image courtesy of nixxphotography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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This post is also available in: Spanish

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