What are Miranda Rights?
This article discusses some important aspects of a person’s Miranda Rights, — what Miranda Rights are, when Miranda Rights apply, when Miranda Rights do not apply, and the limits on how police and prosecutors can use a person’s statement made in violation of their Miranda Rights.
When a person is arrested, a police officer generally reads him his “Miranda Rights” from a form. These rights include the right to remain silent; the right to speak with an attorney before being questioned; the right to have an attorney present when you are questioned; and the right to have an appointed attorney (a public defender for example) if you cannot afford an attorney.
While Miranda Rights may sound very protective, in many cases they are not. The reason for this is clear – a police officer only needs to read someone their Miranda Rights when they are (1) “in custody” and (2) under “interrogation.” If a person is not “in custody” and/or is not being “interrogated” a police officer can ask them questions without reading them their Miranda Rights. What qualifies as police “custody.” “Custody” means that a person is formally arrested or, even if they are not formally arrested, their freedom of movement is restrained in a way very similar to being under formal arrest. If a police officer orders a person to stand against a wall and not move they are probably “in custody” even if they are not yet arrested. However, if a police officer approaches a person on the street and asks them a question they are probably not “in custody” since they have a greater sense of freedom. Assuming a person is “in custody”, Miranda Rights still apply only when a person is being “interrogated.”
“Interrogation” means questioning by a police officer that is likely to cause someone to make an incriminating statement. A question such as “did you shoot him” would clearly be an interrogation, however, casual conversation between a police officer and an arrested person might not be considered an “interrogation” if the police officer does not ask the person questions that would typically be used against him in a criminal case.
If a person is “in custody” and under “interrogation” they must be read their Miranda Rights. In most cases, if a person says something to a police officer when they should have been given their Miranda Rights, this statement cannot be used against the person in court. However, a huge exception to this rule is using a statement obtained in violation of a person’s Miranda Rights to “impeach” them in court – to show that they are lying. For example, if a defendant testifies in court that a car was blue, but he previously told the police the car was red, his prior statement that the car was red can still be used to show the defendant is lying even if the statement was made in violation of his Miranda Rights.