Understanding Your Miranda Rights

In 1963, Mexican immigrant Ernesto Miranda, age 23, was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona, on suspicion of kidnapping and rape. Miranda’s arrest was based on a report and description provided by the victim that matched his physical description. The victim also identified Miranda in a lineup.

After officers informed Miranda of the positive identification, he made a full confession and signed it.

During the time Miranda was detained, he was unaware that he could have remained silent and could have had an attorney present to assist him before being questioned by the police. The signed confession of the defendant became the main evidence used in his trial, subsequently resulting in his conviction and sentencing to 20 to 30 years in prison.

However, Miranda’s case was appealed, and it reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the earlier rulings, and Miranda faced a new trial in 1967. At that trial, Miranda was convicted a second time, without his signed confession entered as evidence.

These events led to the codification of what are known as the Miranda rights, which must be delivered to any person before detaining and interrogating them.

Without the reading of Miranda rights, any statements made are inadmissible in a court proceeding.

“You Have the Right to Remain Silent”

The Fifth Amendment protects citizens from being forced to give self-incriminating testimony in a court proceeding. The right to silence is also a part of the Miranda rights, which police recite to people as a part of the arrest process. Although citizens have the right to remain silent, silence could also be interpreted as incriminating evidence in some situations. If a person in custody wishes to remain silent, that person must invoke this right. Police must then cease questioning until counsel is engaged to assist the person.

“Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You in a Court of Law”

Words and actions of an accused person in custody will be closely observed and scrutinized by police as they strive to ascertain motivations and potential guilt. Thus, anyone being detained by police must be aware that the things they say and do will be observed and recorded. These records may be used in future court proceedings as evidence. Police may also serve as witnesses in a court proceeding, detailing these observations as evidence.

“You Have the Right to an Attorney”

Anyone being detained on suspicion of a crime has the right to be represented by an attorney under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. If a detainee requests an attorney, police must stop the questioning process until counsel arrives to provide assistance. The detainee must formally invoke this right to receive counsel. Without formal invocation of this right, police can proceed with questioning.

“If You Cannot Afford an Attorney, One Will Be Provided for You”

A person being detained in a felony or indictable misdemeanor case has the right to legal counsel, even if they cannot afford representation. In this case, the court must appoint an attorney to provide representation without cost to the detainee. The cost of the attorney will be paid by the state in most cases. Some states require reimbursement from the detainee for the cost of representation.

“If You Decide to Answer Questions Without an Attorney Present, You Will Still Have the Right to Stop Answering at Any Time Until You Talk to an Attorney”

A person being arrested or detained for questioning may opt to begin answering questions initially without representation. Miranda rights give the detained person the ability to invoke the right to counsel at any time, however. Thus, a detainee may answer as many or as few questions as desired, asserting their right to counsel at any point. This should effectively stop the questions until an attorney is present.

“Do You Understand the Rights I Have Just Read to You? With These Rights in Mind, Are You Willing to Answer Questions Without an Attorney Present?”

The conclusion of the Miranda rights asks whether the detainee is willing to be questioned without having an attorney present. This final question also ascertains that the detainee understands their rights. Answering affirmatively provides permission for independent questioning without counsel. The person detained is free to answer questions independently, while remembering that the Miranda rights also provide the ability to suspend questioning if counsel is later desired.

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