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The Miranda Case and the Right to Counsel

In 1966, the United States Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona ushered in a period of court-imposed restraints on the government's ability to interrogate suspects it takes into custody. This famous decision focused on Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination, but it also spoke to the right to counsel. One of the most important restraints enumerated in the Miranda decision is the prohibition against the government's interrogation of suspects or witnesses after the suspect has invoked the right to counsel. Here's what the Miranda warnings generally say:

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to have an attorney present now and during any future questioning. The right to have counsel present at a custodial interrogation is necessary to protect the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. A suspect detained for interrogation must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you free of charge if you wish. The Supreme Court found it necessary to mandate notice to defendants about their constitutional right to consult with an attorney. They went one step further and declared that if a defendant is poor, the government must appoint a lawyer to represent him.

The Court further instructed the police that if a suspect says he wants a lawyer, the police must cease any interrogation or questioning until an attorney is present. Further, the police must give the suspect an opportunity to confer with his attorney and to have the attorney present during any subsequent questioning.

Individuals need to remember that they can be arrested without being advised of their Miranda Rights. The Miranda rights do not protect individuals from being arrested, but they help suspects keep from unwittingly incriminating themselves during police questioning.

All the police need to arrest a person is probable cause to believe a suspect has committed a crime. Probable cause is merely an adequate reason based on the facts or events. Police are required to read or give suspects their Miranda warnings only before questioning a suspect. Failing to follow the Miranda rules may cause suspects' statements to be inadmissible in court; the original arrest may still be perfectly legal and valid.

Police are allowed to ask certain questions without reading the Miranda rights, including the following:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Other questions necessary to establishing a person's identity

Police can also give alcohol and drug tests without Miranda warnings, but individuals being tested may refuse to answer questions.

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