Miranda Warnings and a Criminal Defendant's Constitutional Rights

Most people who have watched a television depicting the police arresting someone has heard them recite what is known as a “Miranda warning.” For the most part, Miranda warnings in real-life law enforcement practice cover approximately the same thing as their television counterparts:

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 speak with an attorney and have them present while you are questioned.

If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish.

You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.

Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?

With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak with us now?

This aspect of police procedure stems from the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona, where the court held that custodial interrogations conducted by law enforcement were inadmissible where the defendant was unaware of their constitutional rights.

There is a misconception that the failure to read an arrestee their Miranda rights is an illegal arrest. This is not true, as the validity of an arrest depends on whether the arresting authority had probable cause, a warrant, or an emergency negating the need for a warrant under the Fourth Amendment.

In actuality, Miranda warnings are only concerned with the Fifth Amendment protection against compelled self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel throughout criminal proceedings. These rights are vital during the initial stages of investigating a crime, where police interrogate someone they suspect is guilty of a crime.

If Miranda warnings were not recited to the defendant, the arrest might still be valid. However, any statements that the police gather after the arrest might be inadmissible at trial in the absence of Miranda warnings.

The Fifth Amendment Right to Remain Silent

Under the Fith Amendment to the United States Constitution, no one “…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”

The first part of the Miranda warnings is designed to preserve a person’s right not to be forced to incriminate themselves by talking with the police by notifying them of their right to refuse to speak with the police. Although the Fifth Amendment mentions “self-incrimination,” a person has the broad right to refuse to talk with the police about anything, because the incriminating nature of what they say may not be immediately apparent.

The right against self-incrimination stemmed from a right recognized in England under the Magna Carta. Historically, people were arrested and forced to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment was included to prevent coerced confessions after being detained by the police. However, an individual’s right against self-incrimination is limited to what are known as “custodial interrogations” where a person’s freedom has been restricted by law enforcement through force or a display of overwhelming authority.

For example, a person who initiates a casual conversation with a lone police officer but ends up divulging the details of a heist they committed has not been subjected to a custodial interrogation, because they volunteered the incriminating information without provocation.

The Sixth Amendment Right to an Attorney

According to the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a criminal defendant has the right “to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” This right is limited to criminal proceedings and is designed to help ensure that the police are not deploying improper interrogation methods that infringe on a person’s constitutional rights. When a person expresses their intention to exercise their right to assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment, police are advised to end interrogation attempts.

Waiving Your Miranda Rights

In general, a person may waive their Miranda rights so long as the waiver is knowing and voluntary. The purpose of reciting Miranda warnings to a defendant is so that they understand and know their constitutional rights in situations where they are taken into custody by the police. The police may not unduly influence or coerce a suspect into waiving their rights.

Just as a person is free to exercise their constitutional rights at any time during a police interrogation, the person is free to waive those rights at any time. For example, a person who tells the police that they want a lawyer present for questioning, only to voluntarily start talking after ten minutes, has waived their right to remain silent and have counsel present for questioning.

Consult Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich

If the police are confronting you with criminal charges, you should exercise your Sixth Amendment rights and seek the assistance of counsel. At Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich, our legal team is committed to protecting your legal rights and advocating for your interests.

Contact us at (951) 687-6003 to schedule an initial case evaluation with one of our Attorney exploring your legal options today.


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