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Miranda Rights

Miranda rights stem from a 1966 United States Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona.  The rights invoke both the 5th Amendment right protecting individuals against self-incriminating statements and the 6th Amendment right to counsel.

Miranda requires law enforcement to advise the suspect of his or her rights prior to the questioning.  Basically, the suspect must be advised, prior to the  questioning, that he has the right to remain silent, that any statements can used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed.

If the police fail to advise a person of these rights, any statement or confession will be presumed involuntary.  In case of a Miranda violation, any statements or confessions will be inadmissible in a criminal case.  The challenge is in establishing a Miranda violation which is not as simple as one might think from the relatively straightforward requirements.

The first point of contention is the definition of “in custody.”  If an individual is not in police custody, the police are free to question the individual without the Miranda warnings.  In the absence of custody, and a custodial interrogation, the police may freely question that person, and all statements are fully admissible at trial.

The issue of what constitutes “police custody” has been the subject of much debate in the courts. Many individuals believe if they are approached by the police and questioned, they are at that point in custody.  This is not true.  Neither is it true that the person must actually be under arrest.  Instead, the nature of the encounter and questioning must be such that a reasonable person in that situation would not feel free to leave.  This of course gives rise to significant differences of opinion between the prosecution and the defense.

Moreover, even after arrest and the reading of Miranda rights, statements may nonetheless be found admissible.  In short, suspects may and often do make voluntary statements after being taken into custody even after they have first chosen to exercise their Miranda rights.  The police issue the Miranda warnings again so long as the police did not initiate further questioning following the suspect‘s election to remain silent.  It is surprising how often this comes up with some people that just do not know when to stop talking, which in most circumstances where the person is being investigated for a crime, is immediately.

Many defendants will allege a Miranda violation.  However, successful Miranda challenges are relatively rare.  In many cases, the police do not question the suspect at all.  In those cases where the suspect is questioned, it is generally prior to the arrest decision and questioning stops once the person is taken into custody.  And, then there is the chatty defendant.

If you are under investigation for a crime, it is very important that you contact an attorney to discuss your rights prior to meeting with law enforcement or investigators.  Failure to seek legal counsel may be very detrimental to your later defense.

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