The 1966 case, Miranda v. Arizona, was an important step by the United States Supreme Court towards reducing the problem of wrongful convictions of innocent people for crimes they did not commit. The case required the government’s police to provide a basic warning of legal rights before asking questions of a suspect who is in custody.
Today, if police fail to give a Miranda warning before questioning person in custody, then that person’s defense lawyer can make a motion to ask a judge to suppress any confession or statements made as a result. And a judge should grant that suppression motion. Let’s take a look at some of the basics of a Miranda violation by police.
What are the key ingredients of a Miranda violation?
- Police or other government actor (state action).
- Are questioning.
- A person in custody.
If all three conditions exist, a Miranda warning must be given to the person in custody.
Without a remedy, there is no “right.” If the police do fail to give a Miranda warning when they are required to, what remedy will the court provide for that violation of law? Normally the remedy is application of what lawyers call the exclusionary rule. The judge will suppress any confessions, admissions or other statements made by the accused as the result of a Miranda violation by police, under the exclusionary rule.
Any statement suppressed by the court for this reason could not be used by the prosecuting attorney as part of the government’s case-in-chief or to support probable cause for the charge.
So far, so good? Sure. But if the defendant were exercise his or her “right” to testify, then the prosecuting attorney would be able to use statement suppressed by the judge for a Miranda violation to impeach (or contradict) the defendant’s testimony.
The reason for this can be understood if we take a look at the primary public policy behind the Supreme Court’s Miranda decision: to deter police misconduct. The courts view seems to be that the exclusionary rule remedy is enough to deter police misconduct; that 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 complete suppression of involuntary statements. Once a judge has Ordered a defendant’s statement suppressed as involuntary, the prosecuting attorney cannot use it for any purpose, even to impeach the Defendant exercising his or her right to testify.
Good legal hygiene
If questioned by police, what should you do? When it is possible that police could view a person as a possible suspect in a criminal investigation, that person should assert his or her right to silence, as well as his or her right to have an attorney present during any questioning. (Notice that two phrases in the Miranda warning refer to these to two Constitutional rights.)
Most people lack experience with police and may fail to properly interpret what is happening until it is over and too later. Therefore, in general it’s best to err on the side of caution and refuse to answer police questions if there is the smallest chance that they could be viewing you as a possible suspect or person of interest. After all, you can always make a statement to police tomorrow, next week, or at any point in the future after consulting your lawyer. But, once words come out of your mouth to police, you can never take them back later.
Not saying anything in the first place is better than your lawyer trying to get your statement suppressed later by a judge. Even if successful, the suppression may be partial as in the case of the exclusionary rule.
Waiver of Miranda rights
Once a person invokes their Miranda rights (to remain silent and not saying anything without a lawyer present), police may try to get that person to “waive their Miranda rights.” Here police sometimes play with the technicalities of Miranda case, for example by saying things in front of the suspect that are explicitly questions to the suspect, to bait them. Or, another example could be where police pretend resignation after an announcement that this “was your chance to tell your side of the story.” Whatever the bait, don’t take it.
If police cross the line and use coercive tactics to get a waiver of invoked Miranda rights, your defense lawyer may be able to get a judge to suppress those statements. Again, prevention is much better than any cure.