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Here's Everything You Needed to Know About the Miranda Rights

Rahul Pandita May 13, 2019
Miranda Rights were established in 1966 to protect the rights of an individual during an interrogation in police custody. We will understand the establishment of Miranda Rights, and answer the questions that are commonly associated with it.

Did You Know

Miranda Rights, also known as Miranda warning, get its name from Ernesto Miranda, a criminal imprisoned on the charges of rape and kidnapping.
In the days after the arrest of Boston Bomber accused, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a lot of debate ensued among lawmakers, law enforcers, and journalists, on the issue of Tsarnaev's Miranda Rights. Reportedly, Tsarnaev was not given a Miranda warning initially, but when it was given to him after 16 hours, he stopped cooperating with the investigation agencies.
There are varied opinions on whether Tsarnaev should have been given a Miranda warning, with some believing that the rights should not have been read out to him at all as he was a major threat to the public.
Well, the arguments and counterarguments on this issue will continue for some time, but it essential for all of us to know what Miranda Rights are, and their important role in our legal rights.

What are Miranda Rights

In the United States of America, Miranda Rights or Mirandizing, is the formal warning given by law enforcers to suspects, informing them of their legal rights during an interrogation in a police custody. Miranda Rights provide the following rights to an individual:
  • The right to remain silent during an interrogation.
  • The right to ask for a counsel before, or during the interrogation. If he cannot afford an attorney, the law enforcers have to inform him that he can be provided with one.
  • The knowledge that whatever an individual says during the interrogation could be used as an evidence to incriminate him.
  • The Miranda Rights are read out to him in a language that he is familiar with.
  • The right to speak to the police on his own free will, without any coercion, or intimidation.

Establishment of Miranda Rights

It was on March 13, 1963, that a man known as Ernesto Miranda, was arrested by two police officers from his home. He was straightaway taken to the police station, where he was questioned for the rape and kidnapping of a woman. During the interrogation, Miranda was not given any opportunity of having an attorney by his side.
He was also not made aware of the fact that whatever he said could be used as an evidence against him in the court. After sustained interrogation, police was able to extract a written confession from Miranda. The written confession had a disclaimer that said that Miranda was making the confession voluntarily and he was aware of his legal rights.
Miranda was put on trial and was sentenced to 20 to 30 years on the charges of rape and kidnapping. His lawyer Alvin Moore did bring up the fact that Miranda's confession was coerced, and therefore, should not be admissible in the court, but the judge upheld the confession as evidence and carried out the sentence.
Miranda, after spending two years in an Arizona prison, filed a review in the Arizona Supreme Court. His plea was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The retrial led to the Arizona Supreme Court overturning the conviction of Miranda as the confession made by him during the investigation did not stand admissible in the court.
The court opined that the Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment of the US constitution protected suspects from self-incrimination and the right to counsel. The court also laid down the procedure that police has to follow before, or during, interrogating a suspect.
While laying down the procedural safeguards that law enforcers had to follow, the court did not declare Miranda as not guilty. In fact, he was again tried after following all the procedures and sentenced to 20 to 30 years. There is no accuracy in the wording of the Miranda Rights, and it varies from state to state, but generally, it goes like this:
"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 provided to you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?"

FAQs about Miranda Rights

Do Miranda Rights apply only in the interrogation rooms? What about police questioning someone on a street or at an open space?
Mirandizing an individual is not only limited to an interrogation room only. Even if a person is in 'custody' at an open space, that is, he is deprived of the freedom to act on his will, it is necessary for the police officer to read the Miranda Rights.
If the police ask me my name, age, address, or SSN, without reading the Miranda Rights, can I refuse to answer them?

Miranda Rights protect an individual from self-incrimination. Asking about general information, such as name, age, address, etc., are part of a routine questionnaire; you cannot use the right to remain silent under these circumstances.
Can the police administer alcohol tests without giving someone a Miranda warning?
Yes, the police can certainly do that, but during the testing, if they start asking you questions, related to a crime, or a burglary, you can use your Miranda right to remain silent, or request for an attorney to be present by your side.
Can the police arrest a suspect without reading the Miranda Rights?
Miranda Rights are a procedural safeguard to ensure that a suspect is not coerced or intimidated into making a confession. The police can arrest a suspect without giving him a Miranda warning, but his statement in a police custody will not be admissible in the court.
What happens if a person incriminates himself while he is not in police custody?

If a person is not in a 'custody', the police officers are not required to give a Miranda warning. Anything that a person says can be used as an evidence against him in the court.
For example, if an individual tells a cop something off the record, while he is not in a police custody, his statement can be used in a court. Not reading Miranda Rights will not be a clause if the police succeed to prove that the individual was not in their 'custody'.
If an individual decides to waive his Miranda Rights, can he change his mind later, and ask for an attorney?
Yes, an individual can ask for an attorney at any time of the interrogation. When he does so, police officers can no longer probe him until an attorney is present. The act of reversing the waiver of Miranda Rights is known as 'plead the fifth', in reference to the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution.
Are the law enforcers required to give Miranda warning in times of emergency?

There are two exceptions to the Miranda Rights. The first exception is made when obtaining necessary information from a suspect quickly is of utmost importance, such as in cases related to saving somebody's life, or property.
In these cases, it is prudent that the police get quick answers from the suspect so that a crime can be prevented from happening. The second exception to the Miranda Rights is made when the suspect is talking to an undercover police officer.
The reason for this is the fact that Miranda Rights were established to act as a deterrent for coercive or compulsive confession. However, when the suspect is talking to an undercover agent, whose true identity he is unaware of, he is under no coercion from the law enforcers, and therefore, doesn't need to be given a Miranda warning.
There is a high possibility that an individual has committed the crime, but during his interrogation, the police fail to read his Miranda Rights. Will his charges be dropped?
Not reading the Miranda Rights before, or during an interrogation is a clear violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, and it can weaken the case of the prosecution. However, if there is substantial evidence against the accused, the charges against the accused will be upheld.
If the accused remains silent after the Miranda Rights are read to him, can it be perceived as a signal that he is waiving his rights?

A suspect has to explicitly say that he is waiving his Miranda Rights and wants to speak to the officers freely.
There are numerous cases where the accused are aliens, unfamiliar with English language, and their silence is due to the fact that they are not able to understand what is being said. It is the responsibility of the police officer to read the Miranda Rights in a language that the suspect can understand.