The Miranda warning (also called the Miranda Rights) is a series of statements that law enforcement officials within the United States must administer when a criminal suspect is arrested or at some point before they are interrogated. In theory, this applies to all law enforcement at any level (local, state, or Federal). However, not everyone is as good as everyone else at using it.
Police are issued Miranda warning cards that they read to ensure they don't make a mistake. Also, the Miranda must be read in a language the arrested understands. In the US, most cops carry Spanish and English versions.
The specific phrasing of the warning varies from state to state, but the basic message is the same:
- You (the arrestee) have the right to remain silent. (On some cards, this is in all-caps.)
- If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you.
- You have the right to speak to an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you by the court.
- You can exercise any of these rights at any time during questioning.
- Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?
The police only need to read you the Miranda warning after they arrest you, but before they question you. If they question you in the field, then arrest you, but don't ask you any further questions, they don't need to "Mirandize" you. Of course, those initial questions are not legally admissible in court as evidence against you, no matter what you said. The answers can only be used to further the investigations or guide future questioning. Update: Of course, the Roberts Court ruled in 2010 that anything obtained before you receive your Miranda rights is now admissible in court, leaving some asking why bother with the Miranda, then.
Miranda warnings stated that if you could not afford an attorney, one would be appointed to you at no cost. However, we can't let the poor think they can get free legal counseling. That would be unfair to rich people.
Should one be read their Miranda rights or not, the legally safest thing to assume (at least in the US) is that the police are not your friends and are intent on finding someone guilty. So keep your mouth shut and save what you want to say for the courtroom and a cooler head. The accused (at least in the US in most jurisdictions) has the right to allocute, though what a person intends to say should first be discussed with their attorney.
James Duane, a law professor at Rutgers University School of Law and former criminal defense attorney, once recorded and lectured a class, which became a viral video in 2008. That video is titled "Don't Talk to the Police". In it, he iterates why talking to the police is a bad idea, and Duane invited a police officer to come up afterward. The police officer admitted that everything Duane said was true and offered his thoughts and expertise to the students. Duane subsequently published a book titled "You Have the Right to Remain Innocent," in which police abuses (and the court system's tolerance of them) are explained in extensive detail.
The Miranda warnings are the product of three separate Supreme Court cases. The namesake case, Miranda v. Arizona (1966), was one of four consolidated cases involving the coerced confession by Ernesto Arturo Miranda to the rape of an 18-year-old woman (Miranda was later convicted on separate grounds). These four cases established the first two rights on the Miranda warning and required that all of these rights be recited to an arrestee before questioning.
The second case, Powell v. Alabama (1932), involved the infamous "Scottsboro Boys" trial. The guilty verdict of nine young African Americans was overturned because they were denied legal counsel from the time of their arraignment until their trial. This case established the third right on the Miranda warning.
The third case, Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), involved a drifter named Clarence Earl Gideon. Gideon was arrested for stealing five dollars and a few bottles of beer and soda from a Florida bar. He could not pay for an attorney, so he was forced to represent himself at trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary. The Supreme Court found in his favor as he was denied the right to counsel, and he was subsequently acquitted in a retrial. This case established the fourth right on the Miranda warning.
- Miranda warning: Houston Criminal Law Journal
- Johnson, Kevin."Reports: Some states charge poor for public defenders", USA Today, 3 October 2010.
- The others being Westover v. United States, Vignera v. New York, and California v. Stewart.
- See the Wikipedia article on Miranda v. Arizona.
- See the Wikipedia article on Powell v. Alabama.
- See the Wikipedia article on Gideon v. Wainwright.