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When does a cop have to read you your rights?

Question: There have been several burglaries in our neighborhood lately. The cops called and asked my son to come down to the station for a talk. He’s innocent, so he agreed. Now they have charged him with the crimes. They never read him his rights so he would know not talk. Don’t they have to?

Answer: What you are referring to is the requirement that a suspect be read his Miranda rights. Miranda rights come out of a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) case called Miranda v Arizona. The case did not create the rights set forth in the Miranda warning—those are guaranteed under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The case, however, illuminated the fact that though these rights existed, not all suspects were aware of them and as a result, they incriminated themselves. SCOTUS then outlined the very specific warning that must be given to all suspects who are arrested.

These last two words are very, very important. The Miranda warning is only required when a suspect has been officially arrested. While the ruling does not require the police to inform you that you have been arrested, the cops will usually begin the reading of your rights with, “You are under arrest.”

When your son was asked to come to the police station, he was asked to come down voluntarily. We may think that we have little choice if an officer asks us to come to the station or calls on the phone, and so we comply with their requests--expecting that if there is something we should be worried about they will alert us by reading us our rights. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

What your son participated in was what the court calls a “non-custodial interview.” How are those defined? Essentially, a “non-custodial interview” is any time you talk with a cop—whether it is on the street, on the phone or at the station. The courts will say you are free to walk away, hang up or leave the station.

They have, historically, upheld confessions or incriminating statements made during non-custodial interviews as constitutional. While an attorney can argue that his statements should be eliminated as evidence, the likelihood of that happening is very slim. 

The case, however, illuminated the fact that though these rights existed, not all suspects were aware of them and as a result, they incriminated themselves. SCOTUS then outlined the very specific warning that must be given to all suspects who are arrested.

These last two words are very, very important. The Miranda warning is only required when a suspect has been officially arrested. While the ruling does not require the police to inform you that you have been arrested, the cops will usually begin the reading of your rights with, “You are under arrest.”

When your son was asked to come to the police station, he was asked to come down voluntarily. We may think that we have little choice if an officer asks us to come to the station or calls on the phone, and so we comply with their requests--expecting that if there is something we should be worried about they will alert us by reading us our rights. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

What your son participated in was what the court calls a “non-custodial interview.” How are those defined? Essentially, a “non-custodial interview” is any time you talk with a cop—whether it is on the street, on the phone or at the station. The courts will say you are free to walk away, hang up or leave the station.

They have, historically, upheld confessions or incriminating statements made during non-custodial interviews as constitutional. While an attorney can argue that his statements should be eliminated as evidence, the likelihood of that happening is very slim. Your son should seek legal counsel immediately.

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