Miranda v. Arizona
384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966)

Ernesto Miranda, a rape suspect, was arrested and taken to the police station. After two hours of questioning, he signed a written confession and was subsequently found guilty. Miranda appealed his conviction on the grounds that prior to confessing, he had not been informed of his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination or his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

The Supreme Court overturned Miranda’s conviction, finding that the coercive nature of detention in a police station necessitates certain safeguards in order to ensure that suspects do not naively waive their rights. The ruling held that when law enforcement officers take a suspect into custody with the intention of conducting an interrogation, they must inform the suspect of certain fundamental conditions:

  1. The suspect has the right to remain silent.
  2. Anything the suspect says can be used against him/her in court.
  3. The suspect has the right to an attorney.
  4. If the suspect cannot afford an attorney one will be provided at no charge.

The Court imposed these limitations upon law enforcement officers for the purpose of ensuring that criminal suspects do not waive constitutional rights as a result of not knowing how to properly exercise them. This ruling had broad ramifications for all police officers, who have since been required to issue Miranda warnings to all suspects that are arrested and taken into custody.

What you should know about your Miranda Rights:

We are all aware of the contents of the Miranda warning. It is recited on police shows everyday and can be repeated verbatim by most Americans, though often without a thorough understanding of its significance. In short, the Miranda warning is an acknowledgement of the criminal suspect’s right to take what is always the best course of action for any arrestee: remain silent until you’ve spoken with a lawyer.

Still, the Miranda warning is frequently misunderstood as encompassing all lawful detentions by police. It should be noted that Miranda does not apply under the following circumstances:

  1. Questions asked at a crime scene
  2. Any statements volunteered by the suspect at any time
  3. Questioning of individuals for fact-finding purposes
  4. Questioning during an investigatory stop

These exceptions are significant because they encompass many situations in which police acquire important evidence from suspects who are under no legal obligation to answer questions. In many cases, police officers acquire probable cause to arrest a suspect due to her own answers to police questions at the crime scene. Thus the following should be remembered with regards to Miranda warnings:

  1. If police have arrested you and plan to ask you questions about a crime, they must read you a Miranda warning.
  2. While this process is often referred to as “reading you your rights” police will only inform you of your right against self-incrimination and your right to an attorney.
  3. Other than identifying yourself, you are under no obligation to disclose information to the police at any time.
  4. The right against self-incrimination excludes statements made voluntarily; anything you say to a police officer at any time can be used against you.
  5. There’s no reason to disclose information to the police about your involvement in a crime prior to speaking with a lawyer.