Woman being arrested

What Are Miranda Rights?

Whether it’s from a TV show or a movie, you’ve probably seen a character “being read their Miranda Rights.” Though it’s an expression most of us have heard before, not everyone truly knows what those “rights” are, or what they mean in the context of an arrest.

History of Miranda Rights

Miranda Rights are supported by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the United States Constitution:

The Fifth Amendment lays out an individual’s right to refuse questioning about a crime they are accused of, whether that be in court, on the side of the road during an arrest, or anywhere else. In layman’s terms, an individual cannot be forced to make incriminating statements (or any statements for that matter) about themselves. Nor can they be forced to be a witness against themselves.

The Sixth Amendment deals with an individual’s right to obtain legal counsel at any point after being brought into police custody.

Miranda Rights were officially created after the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. After being arrested for stealing money from a bank employee, Ernesto Miranda was intensely interrogated by police, which resulted in him confessing to and being convicted of several crimes. Miranda’s case was appealed to the Supreme Court however, who overturned the conviction. They ruled that Miranda’s statements could not be used as evidence against him, since he’d never been informed of his right to remain silent or his right to a lawyer.

The Miranda Rights Script

States may vary slightly in terms of what they require law enforcement officers to say when reading someone their Miranda Rights. In general though, most police officers recite the following Miranda Rights speech:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”

Though the words recited do not have to exactly match those written above, they do have to convey the same message:

You have the right to remain silent, meaning you do not have to answer any police officer’s questions after being brought into custody. However, it should be noted that exercising your right to remain silent prior to being brought into custody can be viewed as suspicious. This is known as “pre-miranda” silence. The best way to handle questioning before you’ve been read your rights is to have a blanket answer for every question asked. Something like “my lawyer says I shouldn’t answer any questions without them present” should do the trick.

What are Miranda RightsAnything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, meaning that if you do choose to speak/answer questions after being read your rights, anything you say can be used as evidence against you. Remember, your words can easily be twisted or used in a context that can make you seem guilty, even if you’re not. It’s always, always best to avoid speaking and exercise your Fifth Amendment right until you can speak to a lawyer.

You have a right to an attorney, meaning that you must be allowed to seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney and have them present with you while you are being interrogated. If police continue to question you, even after you have been read your rights, all you have to do is say “I’d like to speak to my attorney,” and the police must immediately stop questioning you.

If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you, meaning that if you do not have an attorney already and/or cannot afford to hire one, the government will appoint one for you. This part of the Miranda Rights is in place to ensure everyone has the same access to legal counsel and can exercise their right to it during questioning, no matter their economic or financial standing.

When Do Police Have to Read Miranda Rights?

Law enforcement must read someone their rights any time they are in police custody, whether that be because they’ve been arrested or otherwise detained by police officers. In other words, if the police are preventing you from leaving the scene, they are legally required to read you your rights.

The flipside of this is that some police officers will purposefully not detain someone. By telling a person that they are free to leave the scene, the police can avoid reading them their Miranda Rights in the hopes that they say something incriminating. This is one of the many reasons it’s best to simply avoid speaking to police during any kind of confrontation.

What Happens When Miranda Rights Aren’t Read?

Again, if you are in police custody, they must read you your rights. Failure to do so means that they are in direct violation of the law, and anything incriminating you say cannot be used against you. That said, having not been read your rights is not an excuse for you to speak freely. It’s still best to remain silent until you can consult a criminal defense lawyer. Just because you haven’t been read your rights, doesn’t mean you can’t be found guilty of a crime.

It’s extremely important that every United States citizen understand their rights fully, so that they may exercise them if they ever need to. If you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime in Wilmington, NC, and you believe your Miranda Rights have been violated, you should immediately ask to speak to the criminal defense lawyers at Mulligan Attorneys. We’re happy to set up a consultation to answer your questions and discuss your case. Contact us to speak to a North Carolina criminal defense attorney, at 910-763-1100.