Everyone has heard, either from television shows, movies, or civics class, about “Miranda rights” or “Miranda warnings.” These are the rights and warnings which are typically invoked upon arrest from a law enforcement officer.
But what are these rights? And how might they affect my case if I am being charged with a crime?
Generally speaking, what we call Miranda warnings/rights are the admonitions given by a police officer to an accused, usually at or near the time of arrest, which advise the accused of the rights guaranteed to citizens under the Fifth Amendment to our United States Constitution. Substantially they recite as follows:
· 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 an attorney.
· If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.
· Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?
· With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?
Historically, these rights were the subject matter of a landmark United States Supreme Court case decided in 1966, called Miranda v. Arizona. As mentioned above, the rights are based upon an application of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Mirandacase stands for the proposition that statements made in response to the interrogation of an accused being held in police custody will be admissible at trial only if the prosecution can show that the defendant was first informed of his/her right to remain silent, and informed of his/her right to consult with an attorney before and during questioning. Furthermore, only if the accused is willing to voluntarily waive these rights can the statements be used against them at trial.
Mirandarights are therefore all about questioning and being protected from self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.
So, if the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he or she wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease. Or if the individual states that he or she wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present. At that time, the individual must have an opportunity to confer with the attorney and to have the attorney present during any subsequent questioning.
In order to more fully understand these Miranda rights, we should unpack the individual legal concepts involved so you can apply them to your situation.
What is “Police Interrogation?”
Not every citizen/police conversation amounts to an interrogation. An accused is being “interrogated” when there is express questioning by the police, other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody, that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the accused. Interrogation also exists when there are any words or actions on the part of police that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit from the accused an incriminating response.
By contrast, a common example of when interrogation is not present is when the accused begins to voluntarily chat with the police officer on his own, without being prompted by a question from the officer. These situations are common when the accused is excited, intoxicated, or simply caught up in the moment and not thinking clearly. Most police officers are cleaver enough in those situations to simply let the suspect talk on and on, waiting for them to say something incriminating. If this happens, the court will not consider those statements to be a product of police interrogation.
When is a person “In Custody?”
A person is certainly “in custody” for Miranda purposes when the person has actually been placed under arrest by the arresting officer. Custody can also occur when a person is physically deprived of their freedom of action in any significant way, such as being placed in a police vehicle and taken to a stationhouse for questioning. Even if not physically restrained, however, a person can still be deemed in custody if a reasonable person in their situation is led to believe by the actions or words of the police that they are not free to leave. Needless to say, these latter situations are not always clear-cut and sometimes must be litigated in court.
When has a person invoked his/her Right to Counsel?
If an accused tells the police that they want to be represented by an attorney before answering questions, the police are required to immediately cease all questioning until an attorney is present. If Miranda warnings are not given to a custodial suspect prior to questioning, or if a request for counsel by the suspect is ignored, any subsequent statements by the suspect cannot be introduced at trial against them.
The request for counsel by an accused must, however, be clear and unambiguous. Merely mentioning the word “attorney” or “lawyer” is not an explicit invocation of the right to counsel during custodial interrogation. Whether a statement referring to a lawyer is a clear request for counsel depends on the statement itself and the totality of the circumstances surrounding the statement. Again, these situations are often not clear-cut and sometimes must be litigated in court.
Is the Miranda Law valid in Texas courts?
The simple answer to this question is Yes. But, like all things legal, the simple answer is not always the full and complete answer.
Since the Miranda decision was rendered by the United States Supreme Court, the state courts in Texas and every other state must honor the ruling. This decision stands, therefore, as a minimum level of constitutional protection afforded to all citizens. The individual states are always free, however, to pass laws which provide its citizens with even more rights than the minimum rights afforded by the Miranda decision. Years ago the Texas legislature did exactly that.
In addition to the Miranda decision, our legislature in Texas enacted what is now Article 38.22 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. This law provides citizens with even more protection than what is represented in Miranda. In a nutshell, in Texas not only must the Miranda rights be given to the accused, but also any statement by the accused which is a product of custodial interrogation must be reduced to writing, or be recorded by an electronic device, in order for the statement to be used in court. The statute further requires that the Miranda rights be clearly stated on the written form, or verbally spoken on the recording, prior to the substance of the statement given by the accused. If this strict procedure is not followed, the statement will generally not be admissible in a court of law against the accused.
“The police never read me my rights. So will my case get dismissed?”
Unfortunately criminal defense attorneys get this question frequently, and the answer is almost always No. The mere fact that the police did not read an accused their rights will probably not have any effect on the case unless the prosecution’s case is based substantially on a defendant’s confession made during custodial interrogation. In reality, only a small percentage of criminal cases involve confessions made by the accused to law enforcement, so the absence of Mirandawarnings would have little or no bearing on the outcome of the criminal trial. If the prosecution’s case is based on any other type of evidence (and it almost always is), then the prosecution can and will proceed to trial on that other evidence.
How can I get more information about this topic?
If you are charged with a criminal offense you should contact a competent defense attorney skilled in the practice of criminal law immediately in order to begin work on your defense. The Bigham Law Firm has the attorneys with the experience, expertise, and resources to properly represent you in these difficult types of cases.
If you would like more information about how to protect yourself in any criminal case, please call the Bigham Law Firm at (979) 743-4153for a free consultation.