I was driving down the road when I saw the truck in the picture above and I thought it was worth it to give some information as it pertains to your Miranda rights. Now, I imagine that most of you all are familiar with the “Miranda Warning.” It goes like this ‘You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you.’
Where did Miranda Rights Come From?
These required statements are the result of a 1963 case that went up to the U.S. Supreme Court; Miranda v. Arizona. The case involves a criminal defendant who gave a full confession to a serious crime, however since he was not informed of his rights, his conviction was overturned. The Supreme Court, through Miranda v. Arizona, created a formal requirement that officer’s provide this specific recitation of a Defendant’s rights to make sure they make an informed decision as to whether to talk to police or not.
However, a good number of people do not fully understand how and when these rights apply. As I tell clients, Hollywood has done a great disservice to us by creating the impression that the Miranda statement must be provided at the time of arrest. I have had many clients ask, if the rights were not read to them, could we get their case thrown out. The reality is, police are not required to provide this statement at the time of arrest. In fact, depending on how the police are handling their investigation of criminal activity, they do not necessarily have to provide the statement at all. This probably comes as a shock to many, many people, but Miranda v. Arizona established, under what specific circumstances, they are required to provide the statement. The Miranda warning actually only applies: 1) when an individual is in custody, and 2) if they are being questioned.
So, if you are not yet in custody, the warning is not required. Similarly, if the police elect, after taking a Defendant into custody, not to question the individual, the warning is not required at all. And, even though those specific times Miranda is required, may seem clear, there are still some matters that need to be addressed. First to be considered is, when is the Defendant actually in custody? As most of you all know, when a traffic stop occurs, the police walk up to the car and, at some point, typically ask you questions without giving you the Miranda warning. The reason it is not required during traffic stops is, as far as the courts are concerned, you are not yet ‘in custody.’ Custody requires the Defendant to actually be arrested by the police. Traffic stops, and other initial contact with police, are considered “investigatory detention” and therefore the Defendant is not in custody.
There is a lot of case law surrounding this specific issue. To make matters more complicated, the difference between an investigatory detention and an arrest is the difference between the standards of proof (investigatory detentions only require ‘Reasonable Suspicion’ and arrests require ‘Probable Cause’). Once an officer determines they have probable cause to arrest, and take the Defendant into custody, then Miranda applies if an officer wishes to question the Defendant.
The other issue that some people get confused about is they assume the Miranda Warning must be given, once they are in custody, and again, this is not the case. Only when an officer elects to question the in-custody Defendant must they read the Defendant the Miranda Warning. What about statements I just make on my own, even if I haven’t been Mirandized. Those statements are what is referred to as “Spontaneous Utterances” and they are not covered by Miranda and therefore can be used against you in court. This particular issue gets even more complicated when an officer makes a statement (but not a question) that is intended to elicit an incriminating response. Depending on the specifics of these circumstances, the incriminating statement made by the Defendant may be able to be suppressed. It’s worth noting a recent change in the law about when and how you can actually enforce your Miranda rights. Under Berghuis v. Thompkins, a 2010 Supreme Court ruling has made it a requirement that a Defendant speak up to enforce his rights under Miranda. Specifically, remaining silent, once in custody, Mirandized, and being questioned, is not a Defendant invoking his rights. The court now requires a Defendant to actually make some audible statement wishing to enforce his rights under Miranda in order to stop the questioning of the Defendant.
For example, once Mirandized, a Defendant not answering any questions is not actually invoking their rights, and therefore the police can continue questioning you until you audibly invoke your rights. This can be especially concerning when it goes on for hours and gives the police time to wear the Defendant down by continuing to question and make statements about the case to eventually compel a confession from the Defendant. Lastly, even if you are 1) in custody and 2) are being questioned, Miranda only provides limited recourse for the Defendant. Whether you invoke your Miranda rights and they continue to question you, or the police fail to Mirandize you and are questioning you when in custody, the court will only suppress the statements made at that time. Violating your Miranda Rights will not result in the dismissal of your case.
So, as you can see, like all matters that apply to the law, issues are not completely clear but are to be considered based on the specific facts of each individual case. While I did not get a chance to speak with the truck driver in the picture my assumption is, since he felt it necessary to put that declaration on his back window, he does not fully understand how his ‘rights’ will actually apply should he be stopped. I hope this blog helped you better understand your rights when being detained and/or arrested by police.