MIRANDA RIGHTS: IT’S NOT LIKE YOU SEE ON TELEVISION
Legal dramas have been a television mainstay over the years. From the older shows like “Perry Mason” to the newer ones like “Law & Order”, television audiences have gotten their legal education, so-to-speak, from Hollywood executives with little, if any, legal background and training. One area of law that television and movies have really distorted is that of when a person’s “Miranda rights” must be read by law enforcement. As such, that’s the topic I’d like to discuss this week.
The case of Miranda v. Arizona, decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1966, held that the prosecution may not use statements flowing from questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his or her freedom in a significant way, unless the prosecution demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards designed to secure the person’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The procedural safeguard born from this decision has since become known as “Miranda rights.” The complexity of this decision is far deeper than I can discuss in this short article; however, I do want to point out several key concepts.
The rights police must inform a person in custody of prior to questioning are these: 1) the right to remain silent; 2) that anything said may be used against the accused in court; 3) the right to an attorney; 4) the right to have that attorney present during police questioning; and 5) that if he or she cannot afford an attorney, then he or she may have an attorney appointed to represent them. Next, these rights do not have to be read a person immediately upon arrest. In fact, some people who get arrested will never have Miranda read to them. An arrestee need only be informed of these rights if and when law enforcement has taken them into custody and when law enforcement wants to question them. For example, if a police officer is patrolling a street and sees a person pull a gun and shoot another person, then that officer has the authority to arrest the shooter. Furthermore, in arresting the shooter, the officer does not have to read Miranda warnings unless that officer wants to start questioning the shooter about the details of the crime. If either the element of CUSTODY or QUESTIONING is not present, then law enforcement does not have to provide these warnings. This means that if police come to a person’s home and start asking questions about a crime and then leave without taking the person into custody, then that person’s statements could be used in a later prosecution, even without Miranda having been read to them. Lastly, if my shooter in the above example, was arrested by the officer and then, without any questioning from the officer, states that he shot the other person because he didn’t like him, then that statement will be used against the shooter in court, even though Miranda was never read. In short, Miranda is only required if a person is being QUESTIONED while in CUSTODY.
This topic is very complicated. Many lawyers who do not practice criminal law day in and day out struggle with it. Please don’t rely on Hollywood to navigate this difficult legal issue. Call an experienced criminal defense attorney if this is an issue you or a loved one is facing.
Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171.