Monday, November 14, 2011

Quick Overview of Miranda Rights

I decided to write the following post in response to a question that I hear almost day.  It usually goes something like this: "I was arrested for DUI, but the cops never read me my rights.  They have to dismiss the case, right?".  I wish.  My job would be so much easier if Miranda rights were as inviolable as everyone imagines (or as they're portrayed on cop shows). 

This is a quick summary of Miranda rights.  It's intended as practical advice for a lay audience, not an academic study for lawyers and law students.  I'll keep it cursory and try to avoid the minutia.

Miranda rights, as we've all seen on movies, are intended to warn suspects in criminal cases that they have a right not to incriminate themselves when they are subjected to police interrogation.  The right not to incriminate yourself includes the right to have an attorney present during questioning.  That being said, Miranda rights apply ONLY in a very narrow set of circumstances: if you are in custody and being interrogated by police, you confess and the prosecutor wants to introduce your confession as evidence against you, the DA must show that the confession was not coerced (tortured) out of you.  The way they do this is by showing that you had been advised of your Miranda rights and that you knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived those rights.

When a suspect is in custody and unequivocally states that he does not want to speak to the police, the interrogation must immediately stop (smart).  After a short period of time, the police may ask the suspect whether or not he has changed his mind.  If, on the other hand, the suspect clearly demands to speak with an attorney (even smarter), the interrogation must immediately stop and the police MAY NOT attempt to re-interview the suspect without an attorney present.  Note: just because you demand an attorney, don't expect the cops to immediately bring you one. 

Now that we all know when Miranda rights apply, let's talk about some common situations where they DON'T apply.  Since they only come into the picture if you're IN CUSTODY, they do not apply if you're voluntarily answering questions at the police department and you're technically free to leave.  This can be tricky because most people don't feel free to abruptly terminate an interview with the cops by walking out of the room.  If you're not sure whether or not you're free to leave, try leaving.

Miranda rights don't apply to "spontaneous statements".  Spontaneous statements are things that you blurt out NOT in direct response to police interrogation ("She said she was 18!", "It was my first time ever trying meth!", "He deserved it!", etc.).  If you shout out a confession while you're handcuffed in the back of a cop car, that statement will be read to the jury.  When in doubt, think of Dr. Evil, pictured above.

The remedy for a violation of your Miranda rights is exclusion of the confession from evidence.  Contrary to what most people want to believe, violation of your Miranda rights does not automatically result in a dismissal of the case against you.  In a vast majority of criminal cases, the cops never bother to read Miranda rights because they don't need your confession to convict you.  If you're caught driving and you're clearly drunk, you're not going to be interrogated under a single light bulb in an otherwise-darkened room while investigators do the good cop / bad cop routine, like the scene in Menace 2 Society.  No need for Miranda warnings in most DUI cases.

Long story short: don't ever say anything to the police that you wouldn't want printed in the New York Times.  If you're arrested, don't try to explain yourself by telling the cops your side of the story.  I guarantee that there's nothing you can say to get yourself into any less trouble than you're already in.  The only thing you should ever tell the police is "I'm not answering any questions without John Bussman here", and leave it at that.

If you or a loved one has questions about Miranda rights, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer