By Paul Looney, Attorney at Looney & Conrad, P.C.
Everyone who has ever watched a police drama on television or at the movies has heard the police officers recite a list of rights when they arrest a suspect. This list of rights is known as “Miranda Rights” or “Miranda Warnings”
This concept became a part of every day police work after a United States Supreme Court ruling in a 1966 case from Arizona styled Miranda v. Arizona. The individual arrested and tried (Ernesto Arturo Miranda) appealed his conviction for armed robbery, kidnapping and rape of a mentally handicapped young woman because he had not been told that his statements could be used against him in a court of law. Even though the Supreme Court ruled that Miranda’s constitutional rights had been violated, it sent the case back to the trial court for a new trial and the ruling became enshrined in U.S. law (Miranda was subsequently retried and convicted).
Specifically, the Supreme Court found that Miranda’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights had been violated while he was in custody and under interrogation. No specific wording was given by the Supreme Court for informing suspects of their rights, but a set of guidelines were set out that must be followed.
If a person is in custody that is under formal arrest or so deprived of freedom as to seem to be under formal arrest, it follows that under those circumstances any interrogation of that individual can be reasonably expected to elicit an incriminating response.
As a result, prior to interrogation, the person in custody must be clearly informed that he/she has the right to remain silent and that anything the person says will be used against that person in a court of law; that he/she has a clear right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning; and that if the person cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed at no cost. The Supreme Court found that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution guarantee these rights.
The fact that a suspect in custody has been given a Miranda Warning does not in and of itself preclude subsequent statements by that person from being used in resultant prosecution. Many jurisdictions including Texas allow for officers to ask the suspect if he/she understand the rights as they have been read and if so are they still willing to talk to the officers. In that case, such voluntary statements and any evidence collected as a result of those statements even after the Miranda Warnings, have been ruled admissible.
The bottom line for anyone who, for whatever reason, is suddenly found to be in the custody of an official law enforcement organization should always remain silent until they are in the presence of their attorney. Know your rights as the Constitution provides and as law enforcement is required to advice you before any form of interrogation begins. The wisest course of action, consequently, is to remain silent and insist on your right to contact a lawyer and have one present before anything else is said.