“What if police don’t read my Miranda rights?”
Why are Miranda rights important? What are they? And how can your criminal defense attorney help you if police violate your Miranda rights? If police violate your Miranda rights when questioning you “in custody,” then a judge can suppress the statements you made after the violation. But what does that mean, exactly? Read on.
The Miranda case
The United States Supreme Court took an important step towards reducing wrongful convictions of innocent people in 1966. The case, Miranda v. Arizona, requires police to provide a basic rights warning before asking questions of a suspect in custody.
Today, if police fail to give a required “Miranda warning,” a judge may suppress any later statements.
Let’s take a look at some of the fundamentals of a Miranda violation by police.
What triggers your Miranda rights to a police warning?
- Police or other government actors (state action).
- Are questioning.
- A person “in custody.”
If all three conditions exist, police must give a Miranda warning to the person in custody. And what if they don’t?
Without a remedy, there is no “right.”
If the police don’t give a required Miranda rights warning, so what? What’s the legal remedy? Normally the remedy is what lawyers call “the exclusionary rule.” The judge suppresses any confessions, admissions or other statements made as the result of a Miranda violation by police. And, the judge may suppress evidence derived from those illegal statements, as “the fruit of the poisonous tree.”
The prosecuting attorney cannot use any statement the court suppresses for this reason, as part of the government’s case-in-chief. And the prosecutor can’t use it to support probable cause for the charge or Complaint.
So far, so good? Sure.
But if the defendant exercises her “right” to testify, then the prosecutor can use her statement to impeach her. So, the exclusionary rule is really only partial suppression.
Understanding the Why
Why do the Courts allow the prosecutor to benefit from evidence resulting from a Miranda rights violation? To understand their reasoning, look at the primary public policy behind the Supreme Court’s Miranda decision: to deter police misconduct.
The courts’ view is that the exclusionary rule remedy, though partial, is enough to deter police misconduct. So, preventing government use of illegally obtained statements to support probable cause and its “prima facie” case, is enough.
Compare this to the stronger, older Common Law remedy that we still have today for involuntary statements. Once a judge Orders a defendant’s involuntary statement suppressed, the prosecuting attorney cannot use it for any purpose. The prosecutor can’t even use it to impeach the Defendant exercising her right to testify.
The legal remedy for an involuntary statement is complete suppression. Why? The public policy for suppressing involuntary statements is not to deter police misconduct. Rather, the purpose is to increase reliability of verdicts by keeping out unreliable evidence. Involuntary statements are too unreliable.
Good legal hygiene
If questioned by police, what should you do?
When police could view you as a possible suspect in a criminal investigation, you should assert your:
- right to silence, as well as your,
- right to have an attorney present during questioning.
(Notice that two phrases in the Miranda rights warning refer to these to two Constitutional rights.)
Timing: Most people lack experience with police. As a result, they fail to properly interpret what is happening until it’s over and too late. Therefore, err on the side of caution. And refuse to answer police questions if there is any chance they could see you as a person of interest.
After all, you can always make a statement later, at any point in the future — after consulting your lawyer. But, once words come out of your mouth, you can never take them back.
Not saying anything in the first place is better than your lawyer trying to suppress your statement later. Even if successful, the suppression may be partial as in the case of the exclusionary rule.
Waiver of Miranda rights
Once you invoke your Miranda rights, police want you to “waive Miranda rights.”
To “waive” is to give up or surrender. You wouldn’t “waive” the title to your house or car would you? Your right to remain silent is more valuable. So, never waive your rights.
Why would an innocent person choose to wait to consult an attorney before making a statement to police? A innocent person has more to lose by making a statement to police without the benefit of legal counsel. Why? Because if a guilty person makes statement to police, they increase their chance of being charged with a crime.
But when an innocent person makes a statement, they also increase their chance of being charged with a crime. And there is injustice in innocent people being charged with crimes. The best way to prevent this is to remain silent until after fully consulting a criminal defense attorney.
Here police sometimes play with the technicalities of Miranda case. For example, police may say things in front of the suspect to other police, to bait the suspect. Or, police pretend resignation: “this was your chance to tell your side of the story.” Whatever the bait, don’t take it.
And sometimes, police cross the line and use coercive tactics to get a waiver of Miranda rights. When they do, your defense lawyer may be able to get a judge to suppress those statements. But, prevention is far better than any cure.
Your Criminal Defense Attorney
Did police violate your Miranda rights? Perhaps they did not read a Miranda rights warning after questioning you in custody. Or, perhaps police got you to waive your rights in a way that was not “knowing, intelligent or voluntary?”
Apart from Miranda law, perhaps your confession or statement was involuntary?
If so, your defense attorney should review the facts; and prepare motion to suppress the statement. And a judge will hear that motion at a Contested Omnibus Hearing.
Criminal Defense Attorney Thomas C. Gallagher‘s three decades experience in confessions law can benefit you.
He teaches law classes on the subject to police officers, other lawyers and judges. The legal community views him as an expert on the topic.
What about you? Would you like Attorney Thomas Gallagher to help you with your case?