July 26, 2017

The Miranda Warning: Knowing your rights

Anyone who has ever watched a crime show on television probably will have heard the Miranda warning or some variation of it: “You have the right to remain silent…etc.” However, you might not know that the Miranda warning exists outside the realm of television, in real life. In fact, it is an integral part of an American citizen’s legal rights, designed to protect a person who has been accused, but not convicted, of a crime. But what is the Miranda warning, and how is it applied?

The Miranda warning originates from the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona case. The suspect, Ernesto Miranda, confessed to committing a crime while being questioned by police. He was not informed by the police questioning him that he had the right to remain silent or that he had the right to an attorney during the questioning. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, who ruled that Miranda’s Fifth Amendment right (the right not to incriminate oneself in a crime) had been violated, and that his statements could not be used as evidence. (Later Miranda was tried again with new evidence not obtained from his questioning and convicted.)

The Miranda warning, mandated in the 1966 case, is a series of statements about the rights of a suspect in the custody of law enforcement. It informs the suspect that they have the right to stay silent and the right to have an attorney present while being questioned.

The Miranda warning, according to the U.S. Constitution online, is the following series of statements: 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, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.

Since the Supreme Court decision in the Miranda v. Arizona case, law enforcement officers absolutely state and explain the Miranda rights to a suspect before beginning questioning about a crime he/she is suspected of committing. Then, the suspect must answer saying that he/she understands these rights. If it is later found out that the suspect was not properly “Mirandized,” evidence from the questioning can be thrown out from the case.

It is important to be aware that the Miranda warning is not applicable in every situation and that there are exceptions to Miranda rights. The warning is given only to suspects of a crime who are being questioned about that crime. A person who is not a suspect in a crime may be questioned about a crime committed without being read the Miranda warning. Basic questions are exempted from the Miranda warning: name, date of birth, address, and Social Security number. Furthermore, the Miranda warning does not need to be read at the time of an arrest. On Law & Order, for example, suspects are almost always Mirandized as they are handcuffed and put into the back of a police car; in reality, however, time may pass between the arrest and the actual questioning, where the Miranda warning must be read.

The Miranda warning also does not force the suspect to remain silent or ask for an attorney. After the suspect is made aware of and understands his/her rights, he/she may choose to waive those rights during the questioning and speak without an attorney present.

If you are ever accused of a crime, it is important to know your rights, including your Miranda rights, and to consult with an attorney before answering any questions.

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