What is a Miranda Warning? (2023)

What is a Miranda Warning? (2023)

When you are placed under arrest, the arresting officer will often verbally list your rights. While they do not have to do this at the time of the arrest, they often do so in order to ensure that anything you say during the transportation is admissible. These rights are often called “miranda warnings.” If an officer fails to read you your constitutional rights prior to arrest or interrogation, anything you say after the arrest or during an interrogation can be kept out of your trial.

Why is it called a Miranda warning?

In the case Miranda v. Arizona, the defendant was interrogated multiple times and confessed to the crimes he was accused of. However, he was not notified of his Fifth Amendment rights. The court determined that a defendant’s statements cannot be used against them, unless the prosecution demonstrates that the defendant was notified of their Fifth Amendment rights and chose to waive them.

What rights are included in these Miranda warnings?

While there may be some deviation in how an officer describes your rights, there are a few things you can expect to hear every time. Prior to an interrogation, the officer will typically read you something like:

“You have 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. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

These are obviously not the only rights afforded to you. However, these are the rights that a police officer MUST read in order to interrogate you, and later enter your answers into evidence. As we previously mentioned, officers don’t have to use this exact language. The biggest focus is ensuring the officer notifies you of your right to remain silent and right to an attorney.

Some counties will have you sign a Miranda form. This is not required and not universally implemented. Refusing to sign the form will not affect the admissibility of your statements. In other words, your statements to officers CAN be used in court if you’ve been read your rights, even if you did not sign a Miranda form.

When does an officer read you your Miranda warnings?

An officer must read you your rights prior to interrogation, but they will typically read them at the time of arrest. They do this to ensure that anything you say after you are arrested is admissible. For example, if you have not been read your Miranda rights and make incriminating statements in the car ride on the way to jail, those statements will not be admissible.

Often, officers will read you your Miranda rights a second time immediately before an interrogation. This is to ensure that you have heard and truly understand those rights prior to making any statements of significance.

What happens if an officer doesn’t read you your Miranda rights?

There is a common misconception that your case will be dismissed if your Miranda rights weren’t read. That is incorrect, but your case will look very different. The lack of a Miranda warning prevents the State from using any statements you made against you. This does not prevent the State from moving forward with the case and admitting other forms of evidence (e.g. the officers observations of your behavior).

What is considered an interrogation?

When an officer fails to read you your Miranda rights and you make an incriminating statement, the court then must determine if you were being interrogated, and therefore had to be Mirandized. This is why many officers read your Miranda rights at the time of arrest. This ensures that anything you say at any point can be admitted, and there is no risk of forgetting to Mirandize you before they ask you questions.

Additionally, when you are first placed under arrest your adrenaline is pumping and you aren’t thinking as clearly, so it is easy to disregard what the officer is saying when they read you your rights. The best thing to do is to know your rights, and exercise your right to remain silent or hire an attorney if you are concerned.

What is considered a statement?

Anything you say is considered a statement as outlined in Miranda. For example, you are pulled over for a DUI and say, “I shouldn’t have had that last beer,” that is clearly a statement under Miranda; it wouldn’t be admissible in court unless the law enforcement officer had already read your Miranda rights to you.

However, if the officer observes certain body movements that indicate intoxication—such as swaying from left to right or slurring your speech—that is not considered a statement, and therefore is admissible even if the officer has not read you your Miranda rights. The general rule of thumb is that anything that goes between “quotes” is considered a statement as per Miranda.

How do I waive my Miranda rights?

If an officer reads your Miranda rights to you, and you still talk to the officer, you are presumed to have waived your Miranda rights. Some counties with a Miranda form will also have you sign to indicate you are waiving these rights.

How do I assert my Miranda rights?

The best way to assert your Miranda rights is to verbally say so. Say “I assert my right to remain silent, I do not want to speak with you, and I want an attorney.” Your assertion MUST be unequivocal. You can choose to simply not say anything at all and sit silently, but the best method is to verbally and clearly assert your rights.

What if I make a confession to an undercover cop?

While this issue is not clearly settled in the law, Miranda warnings are meant to prevent coercion between a law enforcement officer and an individual who is under arrest or in some form of custody. If you make statements to an individual who you do not realize is a police officer, your Miranda rights don’t apply and your statements will be admissible.

New Supreme Court Case Limits the Necessity of a Miranda Warning

In April 2022, the Supreme Court heard arguments on Vega v. Tekoh. In the case, Terence Tekoh worked as a hospital transporter and was accused of sexual assault. Deputy Vega from the LA sheriff’s department went to the hospital to take Tekoh’s statement. Prior to taking this statement, the sheriff did not read Tekoh his Miranda rights. Tekoh later sued Deputy Vega in civil court for violating his constitutional rights.

On June 23, 2022, the Supreme Court found that failing to read an individual their Miranda rights prior to an interrogation does not provide a basis for a civil suit. This ruling does not affect previously established constitutional rights, and the admissibility of incriminating statements during a jury trial. However, it does prevent you from bringing a lawsuit against an officer who violates your civil liberties by failing to read you Miranda.

While statements made without Miranda are not admissible during a jury trial, that doesn’t mean the prosecutor won’t hear them, it merely prevents the prosecution from admitting these statements into evidence during a trial. This means that they may receive incriminating information from you which will benefit their case. For example, if you say that you hid the stolen gun in a shed and provide the police officer with the location, and he didn’t read you your Miranda rights, he can still go to the shed and find the evidence. He can also tell the prosecutor how he found this evidence. The only difference is that the prosecutor cannot tell the jury that you made that statement.

This new ruling can be problematic for that reason. Previously, law enforcement officers would be held accountable by a civil lawsuit, which would prevent them from the strategic tactic of not reading your Miranda rights and hoping you provided them with beneficial information (like in the last example). Now, law enforcement officers may choose to refrain from reading your Miranda rights and take the risk that they cannot admit your statements, because you may provide them with information that would help them build a case against you.

The Bottom Line

Miranda warnings are read to you by a law enforcement officer either at the time of arrest or prior to questioning. These warnings encompass a portion of your constitutional rights, specifically the Fifth Amendment (the rights to remain silent and hire an attorney). If an officer fails to read you these rights, that doesn’t mean your case will be dismissed. Instead, it means any statements you make in the officer’s custody are inadmissible in your case.