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What are Miranda warnings?

Many people are familiar with the Miranda warnings. The phrase “you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…” is frequently heard on television, often whenever an arrest is made. While many people may guess that Miranda warnings exist to protect the rights of those in police custody, they may not fully understand the origin of the warnings or the particular rights that they protect.

Origin of the warnings

Miranda warnings originated with the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona. The defendant in that case was held in police custody and subjected to the “third degree,” also known as prolonged interrogation, while cut off from the outside world. The Supreme Court held that the U.S. constitution gives all people rights in those situations – whether they are aware of those rights or not.

Miranda requires that the suspect must be informed that he has the right to remain silent (and refuse to answer questions), and the right to hire an attorney (or to have one appointed by the court, if the suspect cannot afford one).

When must the warnings be given?

The Miranda warnings are only required to be given in situations involving “custodial interrogation.” Subsequent Supreme Court decisions, like this one, have clarified what that means. First, in order for a situation to be “custodial,” the suspect must actually be “in custody.” Generally, this means that the person must be in a situation in which a reasonable person would feel that he or she is “in custody” for more than a brief temporary period – such as being under arrest or restrained to the degree of an arrest. Whether or not the police officer believes he is arresting the suspect doesn’t matter, but what matters is what the suspect believes, because his or her beliefs might impact the likelihood that he or she would feel coerced.

Secondly, the suspect must be subject to “interrogation.” This means that the police must be attempting to solicit incriminating information from the suspect – either through direct questioning, or through conduct that the officers could expect would elicit a response from the suspect. If the police are not trying to get information from the suspect, and he or she just voluntarily shares the information, his or her rights under Miranda (and the Constitution) have not been violated.

Therefore, the Miranda warnings are only required to be given when the suspect is in police custody, regardless of where that is (the back of a police car, a public sidewalk, etc.) and they are trying to elicit information from him. This means that while it may be entertaining television for officers on TV to say the Miranda warnings at the exact moment the arrest is made, that is not actually the way it works in the real world. The police do not need to give such warnings until they plan to elicit information from the suspect, which may not happen until a significant time after the arrest, possibly in an interrogation room at the police station.

Things to keep in mind

There are a number of exceptions to the Miranda rule, which are too numerous to discuss in detail in this post. Therefore, there are times when a “custodial interrogation” occurs without the need for Miranda warnings to be given. If you have a question about whether or not your rights have been violated by the police, it is important to consult with an attorney. If you or a loved one have been arrested, it is important to be aware of your rights and all of the legal options available to you. Contact the experienced Florida attorneys at The Baez Law Firm for a consultation today.

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