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Miranda Rights

The famous Miranda rights for criminal suspects, often heard recited in movies or on TV, came from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona and are based on the Fifth Amendment. The ruling in Miranda and subsequent cases provide criminal suspects with a number of rights when being questioned by law enforcement officers. Click on the links below for in-depth information on just what the Miranda rights are, when those rights apply, plus more information on the Fifth Amendment and police questioning.

Miranda v. Arizona

The Miranda rights take their name from the Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. The warnings have been so commonly repeated in film and on TV that many non-attorneys can recite them from memory. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.

Miranda came out of a group of cases involving confessions given by particularly vulnerable defendants, many of whom were indigent and documented to have little or no education. The court found that although there was no evidence of physical coercion or patent psychological ploys there was, regardless, a failure to inform the accused of their rights that prevented their confessions from truly being the product of free choice.

The recitation of the traditional Miranda warnings is only part of the obligation, however. The warnings must be both given and understood by the accused.

Miranda Threatened

Although ubiquitous, the Miranda rights are not entirely secure from attack. As recently as 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that threatened to undermine the Miranda holding. In Dickerson v. United States the District Court had suppressed the statement by the accused because it was made before Miranda warnings were given. The Court of Appeals found that a post-Miranda statute, part of the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968 that made all evidence voluntarily given admissible. The Court of Appeals felt that the Act, created by Congress, held precedence over the court's previous interpretation.

The U.S. Supreme Court felt differently and held that Congress couldn't overrule the court's interpretation of constitutional protections. As a result, Miranda continues to remain the governing authority regarding the admissibility of statements made during custodial interrogation.

Invoking and Waiving Miranda Rights

To gain the full protection of the right to remain silent the suspect must unequivocally invoke the right. Just remaining silent does not mean that an interrogation has to stop. If the right to remain silent isn't clearly invoked the police can continue or repeat attempts to question a suspect.

Even when the right is properly invoked it can subsequently be waived. Stating that you invoke your right to remain silent, and then proceeding to make voluntary statements will frequently result in a waiver of the previously-invoked rights.

Those accused of a crime should be careful to invoke their Miranda right to silence and be careful to avoid an inadvertent waiver of these rights. The invocation must be clear and unwavering.

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