Today I have on my to do list to write another blog post, but unfortunately I did not have an idea for said post. So I was thinking, what’s something that a lot of people know about, but perhaps could use a better understanding of? The clear answer was good old Miranda rights.
Okay, so to start, do you know what the Miranda rights are? Give it a try and see if you know them. I’ll wait a second.
Essentially, it boils down to the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. These rights are read because in the United States we have a right against self incrimination. Often when people are read their rights it goes something like this:
You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you at no cost. During any questioning, you may decide at any time to exercise these rights, not answer any questions or make any statements. Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?
As I’m writing this, I realize there is so much to discuss about Miranda rights, so I’ll make this part one of a series. I think a good place to start is discussing when exactly a person needs to be read these rights. It’s not just any time someone is arrested, although that’s certainly a fine time to read them to an arrestee.
Miranda rights need to be read to a person prior to a custodial interrogation. This can be broken up into two prongs, the first being that the person has to be in custody, the second is that they must be subject to interrogation.
Let’s start with custody. To be in custody, a person has to be deprived of their “freedom of action.” If someone is casually chatting with an officer on the street, that’s obviously not custody. If someone is handcuffed in the back of a cop car? That’s custody, for sure. What about after an officer stops someone for a routine traffic violation? That’s a tricky one. You would think that sure, the driver can’t just drive away, so their freedom of action would be restricted, so it is custody. But actually, the officer does not have to read the Miranda warnings in that situation! Why? Because the Supreme Court essentially said that a routine traffic stop does not “impair the detainee’s exercise of his privilege against self-incrimination to require that he be warned of his constitutional rights.” Check out a case called Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984) for the full details.
The best way to determine if you are in custody is to ask. Just ask the officer, “am I free to leave?” If you are, there’s your answer, you’re not in custody. Then, probably leave and call an attorney. I recommend me.
Now what about the interrogation part? If someone is being asked specific questions about criminal activity, or if officers are making statements attempting that would likely cause the person to discuss criminal activity, then that’s interrogation. So an officer asking routine questions like a person’s name or address is not interrogation. It has to be about criminal activity.
It’s a little hard to make this concept sound exciting, so I’ll end this post by telling you what ultimately became of Ernesto Miranda, you know, the guy from the case about the rights.
Well, Miranda’s confession was excluded and he was retried on rape and kidnapping charges without it. Even without his confession, he was still convicted. He was sentenced to serve 20-30 years but was paroled after 5. After he got out on parole he started autographing cards with the Miranda warnings written on them. These were cards that officers would carry around and reference when reading people their rights. Apparently Miranda liked the fame he got from having his name at the top of those cards and he made a living selling those autographed cards, which is pretty gross when you think about how all of this came from his confessing to really terrible things. But then he was stabbed in a bar fight. The officer read the stabber his Miranda warnings straight from an autographed card Miranda had on him. The stabber, unlike Miranda, did exercise his right to remain silent, posted bond, and fled to Mexico never to be seen again. Miranda died from the stab wounds.