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What are Miranda Rights?

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP May 31, 2022

Knowing and invoking your Miranda rights is one of the most beneficial steps you can take once you’re arrested or are being questioned. Miranda rights give you the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. If you cannot ford an attorney, you will be appointed one. Knowing that you can’t be forced to answer questions without your criminal defense lawyer present and understanding how Miranda rights work in practice will make a substantial difference in the case against you.

When Are Miranda Rights Required?

Many people are under the misconception that the police are required to read Miranda rights to every person they arrest or the arrest won’t be valid. This is incorrect, and knowing the requirements is incredibly important. Generally speaking, the police are only required to read you your Miranda rights if they are going to interrogate you. If they fail to read you your rights, anything you say should not be used in court or held against you in any way. If law enforcement fails to read Miranda rights to someone, this could jeopardize the entire case.

If you are read your rights but you waive them – meaning you agree to speak to law enforcement without a lawyer – they can use anything you say against you. Keep in mind that you can ask for a defense lawyer at any time, and once you do that, they should stop questioning you immediately until your defense attorney arrives.

Additionally, if you are free to leave and the police wish to speak with you, they do not have to read you your rights. If you’re in custody and aren’t free to leave, or if the police wish to conduct a custodial interrogation, Miranda rights are required.

What is Custodial Interrogation?

A custodial interrogation is defined as questions that are likely to produce incriminating answers and is done while you are in custody or you aren’t free to leave. If you aren’t free to leave and you are in custodial interrogation, the police must read you your Miranda rights before interrogating you.

Whether you are in custody depends on a number of factors and will be determined by looking at the totality of the circumstances. The court will look at who was asking the questions. If it’s a police officer or other law enforcement and a suspect in the same situation would feel intimidated and required to answer, this is likely considered custodial interrogation, even if you aren’t at the police station or in handcuffs. Additionally, the number of officers that are around you and where they’re positioned can factor into this decision. The more officers there are and if the officers are physically blocking your exit, the more likely it is to be considered custodial interrogation.

Another consideration is who started the conversation. If you walked up to law enforcement and started sharing information and asking questions, you probably aren’t in custody and they aren’t required to read you your Miranda rights.

The final question when determining whether a person is in custody is if a reasonable person would believe that they are in custody and not free to leave. If they wouldn’t feel free to leave, you’re likely in custody. There are other factors the court will look at, but these are some of the most common ones.

Understanding your Miranda rights is crucial to ensure you don’t incriminate yourself. Also, keep in mind that it cannot be used against you if you request a criminal defense attorney before speaking to the police.