Law Office of Tim Powers
You Have the Right to Remain Silent
Those words have been popularized in television and movies, and many people
recognize them as the opening of the
Miranda rights. But what those rights are, and what results when police officers fail
to read them to criminal suspects, are topics that are frequently misunderstood.
Before Miranda, the right against self-incrimination was never self-executing
and always had to be invoked by the suspect. This invocation is what is
commonly referred to as pleading the Fifth. In Miranda, the Supreme Court
shifted this burden to the police, and required them to specifically advise
suspects of their right to remain silent and their right to have an attorney
present during questioning. The Court ruled that all statements or confessions
made in the absence of the warnings are inherently involuntary and coerced,
and hence inadmissible in court.
The most common misconception regarding the warnings is that police must
read them to everyone that they arrest, and that an arrest without them
is somehow invalid. This is pure myth: as long as police have probable
cause to believe a suspect has committed a crime, the arrest is valid.
The decision in Miranda v. Arizona essentially is that
The prosecution may not use statements . . . stemming from custodial interrogation
of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards
effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. Miranda,
384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). This means that any time a person is in custody and subject to interrogation,
the police must apprise the person of his rights, or the statements are
inadmissible in court.
Custody is defined as any deprivation of liberty where the person does
not feel the freedom to simply walk away. It should be noted that courts
generally rule that people are not in custody during routine traffic stops
and other routine police encounters.
Interrogation means questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after
a person has been taken into custody or, any other police action that
produces an incriminating response.
Once these two elements exist, the police are required to read a suspect
the warnings. The reason for this requirement is that
the danger of coercion resulting from the interaction of custody and official
interrogation, whereby the suspect may feel compelled to speak by the
fear of reprisal for remaining silent or in the hope of more lenient treatment
should he confess. Illinois v. Perkins, 496 U.S. 292 (1990).
Some important exceptions to Miranda have been highlighted in Supreme Court opinions.
First, once the Miranda warnings are given, any statements that the suspect
makes after that point are admissible, even if they are the same statements
that were made prior to the warnings. This is true because a confession
made by a suspect with knowledge of his Miranda rights is not considered
the product of coercive police conduct, due to the fact that the suspect
is now fully aware of his rights.
[a]n undercover law enforcement officer posing as a fellow inmate need
not give Miranda warnings to an incarcerated suspect before asking questions
that may elicit an incriminating response. Perkins, 496 U.S. 292. This exception exists because when a prisoner does not know that he is
talking to an undercover agent,
the essential ingredients of a police dominated atmosphere and compulsion
are lacking. Id.
Know Your Rights
It is absolutely vital that suspects understand that the rights covered
by the Miranda warnings can be waived, or given up,
provided the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently.
Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. People can waive their rights in any number of ways, verbally, in writing,
or impliedly by making statements after the warnings are issued. Increasingly,
police write a person's confessions on forms containing pre-printed
Miranda waivers at the bottom, and people often fail to notice the language
on signing the confessions. Thus, it is essential that when taken into
custody, people not talk to police or sign anything without an attorney present.
The upshot of Miranda is that a jury cannot know about any statements given
prior to the defendant's advisement of his Miranda rights if the suspect
gives the statements in a police-dominated atmosphere. Nor can it hear
any part of an interrogation that occurred after the defendant invoked
the right to an attorney. See, e.g., Minnick v. Mississippi, 498 U.S.
146, 156 (1990). The fact that all police questioning must cease upon
an individual requesting an attorney is a powerful tool in resisting police
interrogation. However, given the inherently coercive nature of police
encounters, people are sometimes hesitant to invoke their rights for a
number of reasons.
When the Supreme Court revisited Miranda, it held that
an accused…, having expressed his desire to deal with the police
only through counsel, is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities
until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself
initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the
police. Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 484 (1981).
However, a suspect should never waive the right to counsel and should waive
the right against self-incrimination only after conferring with an attorney.
When a citizen is facing prosecution by the resources of the government,
his most powerful aegis is the Constitution. Once a person waives his
constitutional rights, the chances of a favorable outcome quickly diminish.
If you are seeking aggressive criminal representation by an experienced
criminal defense attorney for your Denton County criminal case or arrest
in Denton County, contact the offices of Tim Powers today. There is no
charge or obligation for the initial consultation. 940.580.2899.
*Tim Powers is an attorney licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court
of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For
legal advice about any specific legal question you should directly consult