"They didn't read me my rights"
If you are a fan of police procedurals like Law & Order, then you have seen how Hollywood portrays an arrest. The cop puts the suspect in handcuffs and says something along the lines of, "Mr. So-and-so, you're under the arrest for the murder Ms. So-and-so. 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 appointed to represent you."
Though the exact wording varies from show to show, we all have these lines memorized because we have heard them so many times on television and in the movies. Naturally, people often believe that the police are REQUIRED to say these magic words when they place a person under arrest. So, when they have the unfortunate experience of being placed under arrest and the cop doesn't say "you have the right to remain silent...", they think the cop didn't follow the law.
It may come as a surprise, but a failure to read Miranda rights to a suspect is virtually never grounds for a case to be dismissed. However, a failure to Mirandize, under certain circumstances, may affect the admissibility of certain evidence in the case.
What are Miranda rights?
The Constitution of the United States affords everyone basic fundamental rights. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides the right against self-incrimination. This essentially means that the government cannot compel you to make any statements. The Sixth Amendment guarantees citizens the right to representation by an attorney if accused of a crime.
In Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 486, Ernesto Miranda was arrested by law enforcement, interrogated for hours, and eventually signed a confession that he kidnapped and raped a woman. He was never advised of his right to remain silent or his right to have an attorney present. Miranda was convicted and his case worked through the appeals process, ultimately being decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court held that statements made by criminal suspects during a custodial interrogation are inadmissible. In theory, the purpose of the Miranda rule is to guard against coerced confessions.
Miranda warnings are not always required
The Miranda case held that law enforcement officers are required to advise a suspect of their right to remain silent and their right to counsel if they intend to conduct a "custodial interrogation". In other words, if a suspect is "in custody" and the police are going to interrogate the suspect (i.e., ask the suspect questions that may elicit an incriminating response), then Miranda warnings are required.
Custody + Interrogation = Miranda warnings required
If a person is in custody, but not being interrogated, or vice versa, Miranda warnings are not required. Here are some illustrations:
Example: You are pulled over and placed under arrest for DUI. No Miranda rights are read. On the way to the station, the police ask you if you watched the Raiders game on Sunday. No questions are asked about drinking and driving. When you get to the station, they book you and release you with a court date. During the booking process, they ask basic questions (e.g., address, phone number, employment, medical needs, etc.)
Result: In this example, you are clearly in custody once placed under arrest. However, the police never ask any questions that may elicit an incriminating response. Since there was no interrogation, Miranda warnings are not required.
Example 2: You are pulled over for DUI. After providing your license and registration to the officer, he asks you whether you have been drinking that night. You tell him you had a couple of beers. The officer then conducts field sobriety tests, places you under arrest, and takes you to the station. No questions are asked during the trip to the station.
Result: This one is tricky, because, in asking whether you have had anything to drink, the officer is clearly interrogating you. Your answer to that question is incriminating. However, the question was asked before you were placed under arrest. Since you were not "in custody" when the incriminating question was asked, Miranda warnings are not required.
What happens when Miranda applies, but they didn't read me my rights?
As you can see, Miranda rights are not always required. However, when they are required and the police fail to give them, your statements may be suppressed. Also, if any of your statements lead the police to discover new evidence against you, that evidence may also be suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree". Bear in mind, any evidence obtained prior to the interrogation, or independent of the interrogation, is not subject to suppression under Miranda, whether the warning was given or not.
As you can see, Hollywood portrays a very simplistic, and often incorrect, use of Miranda warnings. The Miranda case was decided in 1966. Since then MANY cases have come down to further clarify and interpret Miranda. Consequently, it is difficult to conclusively state whether a Miranda violation has occurred and, if so, what will happen as a result of the violation.
If you have questions about Miranda rights, please contact us to arrange a consultation.