From Adam-12 back in the 60s to the latest episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, you've heard Miranda warnings given to suspects under arrest hundreds (if not thousands) of times. But many defendants fail to realize what these words actually mean in the strictest legal sense.
A Miranda warning contains the gist of the following: "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."
Learning how these words can affect the case against you may enable you to better defend yourself against the charges.
Do you understand your rights?
Back in 1966, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Miranda v. Arizona. The result of that landmark court case was Miranda rights intended as protection for defendants' Fifth Amendment right not to be compelled to answer self-incriminating questions by the police.
The wording of Miranda rights may differ slightly as long as they convey the same meaning. If you are not a native English speaker, the arresting officer must translate the Miranda warning to a language you clearly understand.
When do your Miranda rights take effect?
This frequently catches defendants off guard, as Miranda rights do not apply until an arrest is made. What that means is that cops can ask you whatever they want to while investigating an alleged crime up until they arrest you. But they have to let you know that your answers are voluntary and that you are free to go.
This is very important, because any information that you share with the police prior to being Mirandized may be used against you at trial.
Should I remain silent?
This is a gray area, as your silence may be used against you. The reason for this is the presumption that innocent people usually protest their innocence and/or offer alibis instead of remaining mum. Prosecutors can use a suspect's silence in the face of police questioning as evidence of guilt at trial.
There is actually a better way to approach this situation. When a police officer begins questioning you, inform him or her that your attorney advised you never to answer questions by police before seeking legal guidance. This may defect the suspicions of your guilt, as you are following the attorney's advice.