Joseph A. Lombardo
Anyone who watches television shows about police and the law has heard the Miranda rights read to a suspect. The arresting officer will say something similar to, “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.”
The Miranda warning, also known as the Miranda rights, is a statement given by police to an alleged criminal in custody prior to questioning. Without this warning, anything the suspect says may be thrown out of court as inadmissible.
The Miranda rights became a required part of police procedures to protect a suspect who is in custody and being directly questioned by law enforcement. The interrogation may take place in jail, at the police station, at the scene of a crime, on a busy street or in an open field. However, if a person is in custody, the police must read them their Miranda rights if they want to use the suspect’s answers as evidence at trial.
The original concept of Miranda rights came from a Supreme Court decision in the case Miranda v. Arizona in 1966. The Court found that the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of Ernesto Arturo Miranda had been violated when he was arrested and put on trial for domestic violence. The Court stated that the admission of a compelled incriminating statement by a suspect not informed of his or her Fifth and Six Amendment rights violates that individual’s right to an attorney. In short, the Miranda warning protects a suspect’s right to refuse to answer self-incriminating questions. Miranda was retried and convicted. However, the result of the Supreme Court decision is the statement of warning that has become so familiar today.
Although the exact wording of the Miranda warning may vary from state to state, the statement must accurately convey the message. In addition, an arresting officer must ensure that an alleged criminal understands the statement. Miranda rights must be communicated in a language the person understands.
Miranda rights do not become effective until after a police officer makes an arrest. Until that time, the officer may ask questions. However, the officer must inform the suspect that the questioning is voluntary. The officer must make clear that the person in question may leave at any time. The answers to those questions are admissible in court.
Without a Miranda warning, nothing a person says to answer a police question while in custody can be admitted as evidence against that person in court. In addition, if the police find evidence because of an interrogation that violates the Miranda rule, that evidence is also inadmissible in court.
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