10 “Miranda Rights” Misconceptions

Unfortunately, many people suffer from a false-sense-of-security syndrome regarding what is popularly known as the “Miranda rights or warning.” While this legal tool has protected many people’s rights and proved to be a groundbreaking achievement by the Supreme Court, it nevertheless does not provide as much protection as some people think. In fact, many people have gotten into trouble or have not fared as well as they could have after being declared victims of a Miranda rights violation. The reality is that the legal protection provided by this tool is very limited. For one thing, it does not protect people from arrest, just from illegally-obtained admissions of guilt or information that points to it, though even this statement is not as black-and-white as it may sound. Rather than misplacing faith in this legal tool, what people need to do in most cases, if involved (even peripherally) in a criminal proceeding, is keep their mouths shut, get a good criminal law attorney, and, finally, refrain from falling victim to any of the following common legal misconceptions:

1. Arresting someoneforces the police to “Mirandize” that person. We have seen TV police dramas that feature at least one person being released from custody because he or she was not read his or her Miranda rights. Well, that may happen in the comfort of Hollywood’s fictionalized environment, but, in the real world, this just does not happen. Yes, comments that may have been made in the absence of Mirandizing someone may be inadmissible in court, but that is usually subject to judicial discretion; what people forget, though, is that Miranda rights issues and a legitimate arrest are separate and independent legal issues.

2. Miranda rights prevent police from obtaining any information from suspects unless they have been Mirandized. That is simply not true. Some types of information are not covered by the statute, such as personal identification information: someone’s name, address and social security number. The Miranda rights do not cover everything under the sun.

3. A person brought in or asked to come in by the police for questioning regarding a case cannot have their comments used against them unless they were Mirandized. Again, that is simply not true. Unless a person is officially considered a suspect and brought in under that distinction, all the comments that person makes, including possibly admitting to some crime, are fully admissible against them in a court of law. The courts, simply put, consider such statements to have been made voluntarily-i.e., they were not coerced or prompted from them through interrogation, after being formally informed that they were “suspects” in a particular case. Of course, the police often use the vagueness or grayness of the situation to their advantage, sometimes interrogating people without telling them they were “suspects.” In general, it is best not to make any statements to the police without legal representation, even if you have not done anything illegal (as far as you know) lately.

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4. The police is required to wait for a lawyer to show up before continuing an interrogation after the Miranda rights have been read. Word to the wise: if you have been read your Miranda rights, then you can assume that you are officially a suspect to a crime, even if the police have not put you in handcuffs or called you a “suspect” yet. After reading someone their rights, the police do not have to wait for a lawyer to show up, but, if you request a lawyer, regardless of whether they read you the Miranda rights or called you a suspect, then they are required to wait until you talk to a lawyer. Actually, they can keep talking to you, but you would do well not to respond to what they say after you utter the magic words “I want to see a lawyer now.”

5. Answers or comments provided voluntarily cannot possibly be used against a subject-after all, the individual was being cooperative. Some people take it to mean that, if they have not been read the Miranda rights or been officially accused of anything, they can and should always answer questions posed by the police. They consider this their civic duty-in other words, they are just helping law enforcement do their jobs. Unfortunately, though-in spite of the fact that this is a roundabout abuse of the Miranda rights-any information thus obtained can and is often used against these “cooperative” and ridiculously na├»ve citizens.

6. The fact that the police did not read someone who was formally arrested their Miranda rights is something people should take comfort in, especially if they did not bother to ask for a statement from the suspect. First of all, not having been read your Miranda rights (if no statements were sought or gotten from you) does not mean that you have something to gripe about when brought before a judge. If the police have enough evidence to charge and convict someone with a crime, they may not bother to get any statements from the accused-and, no, they are not obligated to read that person his or her Miranda rights, if that is the situation.

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7. Spontaneous, unsolicited, and unprompted comments made by arrested subjects are inadmissible if the Miranda rights were read after the comments were made. There are many people presently serving time in jail who were under this false impression. Such statements are fully admissible-it is only comments that the police obtained through interrogations that were not preceded by the reading of one’s Miranda rights that are not admissible.

8. Evidence found as a result of a statement made in violation of Miranda rights is always inadmissible. Actually, while an admission of guilt (or any comments that revolve around it) may not be admissible under such circumstances, evidence found as a result of that admission may still be admissible. If a person, for example, declares that he killed the missing teenager he was brought in to be questioned about (telling police where he buried the body 5 years ago), that admission may be thrown out if, though he was under arrest and officially interrogated about the crime, he was never read his Miranda rights. This, however, does not stop the police from looking for the remains of that body and using any evidence they find as a result of that search against the accused.

9. If a person remains silent after being read his Miranda rights, then his silence may be held against him and this is a good reason to always immediately spill the beans (assuming there are any to spill) after being read one’s rights. While the police and prosecutors may indeed assume (and later bring up during the trial) that someone may be pointing to his guilt if he remains silent (especially if he is innocent-after all, why wouldn’t an innocent person immediately voice his innocence?), this should not deter people from keeping their mouth shut. Immediately talking to a competent attorney should be your highest priority, not helping the police, even if they were nice enough to read you the Miranda rights before crucifying you. In general, you should just say that your lawyer advised you to remain silent if you ever found yourself in this situation-that can rarely be used against you.

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10. Miranda rights violations are a thing of the past, now that the law enforcement community knows better. If only that were true, one might say! The police have only found roundabout ways to violate peoples’ Miranda rights. While most of the people they do this to may indeed be guilty of something, that does not make it all right. Rather than worrying about it, though, what each of us needs to do is to just educate ourselves so that, in the sad event that we are ever charged with a crime (or questioned about one), we will be wise enough to do what every criminal attorney advises everyone to do: “Keep quiet until you talk to a competent lawyer!”

Resources

1. Larson, Aaron. (2000). “Miranda Rights.” http://www.expertlaw.com/library/criminal/miranda_rights.html

2. “The Miranda Warning”: http://www.usconstitution.net/miranda.html

3. Longley, Robert. (2010). “Miranda: Rights of Silence”: http://usgovinfo.about.com/cs/mirandarights/a/miranda.htm