Have you ever heard a police officer or special agent in a TV show, such as NCIS, Law and Order, or CSI say the words, “You have the right to remain silent. Everything 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 you,” or a version of that? Those are called your Miranda Rights or your Miranda Warnings, derived from the 5th and 6th Amendments of the United States Constitution.
Your 5th and 6th Amendment rights are very important to know if confronted by a legal situation. For example, the police show up at your door and ask you what you know about a possible crime in the area. Do you have to answer their questions?
The simple answer is no, you can inform the police you do not want to answer their questions. Put yourself in this situation. At this point, you do not know if the police consider you a suspect or if they are only searching for information about a possible crime. Voluntarily choosing to not speak with the police about a criminal matter is not a crime.
However, after you have informed the police you do not want to answer their questions, they may go away or they may arrest you. The only way they can make a legal arrest is if they have other evidence, without your statements, which is enough for probable cause for the arrest. In many instances, the police want your statement or confession to make it an easier case for the state attorney to prove. Do not help them.
Let’s assume you say nothing to the police and you are arrested anyway. At this time, the officers proceed to read you your Miranda Rights, place you in a patrol car, and take you to the police station where you are placed in an interrogation room. When an officer comes in to talk to you, do you have to answer their questions?
Still no. The same rules apply as before you were arrested. In the 1966 Supreme Court Case, Miranda v. Arizona, police questioned and obtained a confession from Miranda. Miranda was not provided the opportunity to ask for an attorney as the 6th Amendment requires, nor his 5th Amendment right to remain silent, in order to dispel the compulsion of a forced confession. The Supreme Court removed the confession evidence from the case, stating because the confession was obtained without Miranda given the opportunity to call an attorney, it was not admissible. As such, the Miranda Rights became a requirement of all law enforcement when arresting an individual.
Your Miranda Right of ‘the right to remain silent’ takes effect when you inform the interrogating officer you wish to remain silent and are refusing to answer any questions. That officer must oblige you to invoke your 5th Amendment rights and all questioning must cease immediately. The privilege of self-incrimination provides protection from answering any interrogation questions and incriminating yourself.
Now the police aren’t talking to me, but I still am in an interrogation room. What do I do?
Your Miranda Right of ‘you have the right to an attorney’ applies when you inform the interrogating officer that you are requesting an attorney be contacted and made available. Once you invoke your right to counsel, all questioning must cease until the lawyer arrives.
The second part of your attorney Miranda Rights, ‘if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you,’ was made applicable on a state level in the United States Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), affirming indigent defendants will be granted the same entitlement to appointed legal counsel. Therefore, when you cannot afford a private attorney, the court will provide you a court-appointed attorney from the public defender’s office.
Understanding your 5th and 6th Amendment Rights is an essential barrier between you and an unjust deprivation of human rights. Our attorneys at the Law Office of Adams and Luka know this and fight every day to make sure those rights are always preserved for every client. Please feel free to call with any questions.