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How important are "Miranda rights" in a criminal case?

A person's Miranda rights are an important part of the defense strategy in some cases. It is imperative that anyone who has contact with the police understand these rights and when they are relevant. Some people falsely believe that they should be read their Miranda rights -- "You have the right to remain silent ..." -- during any interaction with the police. In fact, there are only specific times when a person must be read these rights.

The necessity to provide the Miranda warning to individuals came in response to Miranda v. Arizona. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1966 that people who are being interrogated while they are in police custody have specific rights that they must be reminded of before they can be asked any questions.

When are Miranda warnings required?

Miranda warnings are always required if the officer is asking questions or accepting statements from a person who has been arrested or is otherwise being deprived of their right of free movement. If the subject is in custody and not provided with the required warnings, nothing that is said and no evidence that is found as a result of the statements or answers can be used in a criminal case.

What warnings are required?

While the wording might vary slightly from one police department to another, the gist of the warnings was set forth by the Supreme Court ruling. These include:

  • Right to remain silent
  • Any statements made can be used in court, even if they are against the person
  • Right to speak to a lawyer and have one there during the interview
  • Right to have an appointed lawyer if you can't afford one
  • Ability to invoke your right to remain silent before or during questioning
  • Ability to invoke your right to have your attorney there before or during the interrogation

If you opt to invoke your Miranda rights, the interrogation must stop. If the reason was that you want to consult your attorney and have them present during the questioning, the interrogation stops until those conditions are met. Typically, it is best to invoke these rights prior to making any statements to law enforcement.

What other important information should people know?

Miranda rights don't apply if you aren't being detained and interrogated. They also don't apply when the question being asked has to do with your identity. You must provide police officers with your name and specific identification.

Once your rights are read to you, the officer will ask whether you understand them. Your acknowledgment will be made either in the form of a verbal response or by signing a form. If you are being interrogated and you weren't told of your rights, be sure to let your lawyer know as this might significantly affect your defense.

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