Miranda Rights: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

Unrecognizable police officer arrests individual for traffic violation concept

In 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided Miranda v. Arizona and set a precedent that would affect arrests and criminal prosecutions for decades to come.

Ernesto Miranda was a laborer who in 1963 was accused of kidnapping and rape. After his arrest, Miranda voluntarily participated in a police lineup. When the lineup was over, he asked police how he did and was told that he was positively identified. After more than two hours of interrogation, Miranda confessed.

At trial, Miranda’s attorney objected to the use of Miranda’s confession. His objection was overruled, and Miranda was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison.

On appeal, Miranda’s attorneys argued that because Miranda was emotionally disturbed and poorly educated, he could not be expected to know of his right to remain silent and to not incriminate himself. The Supreme Court agreed and found that police were required to inform Miranda of his right to remain silent, that anything he said would be used against him, that he has the right to an attorney, and that he would be provided with a lawyer if he could not afford one.

The result was the Miranda rights which are now read, in one version or another, to suspects anytime they are arrested:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”

What Happens If Miranda Rights Are Not Given?

Miranda warnings have become standard police practice. They are intended to discourage officers from using coercive interrogation techniques. If police officers violate Miranda by failing to inform a suspect of their rights, anything the suspect says can be excluded from trial and cannot be used to try to secure a conviction.

However, it is important to understand that Miranda only applies in limited circumstances and that a violation of a suspect’s Miranda rights does not automatically mean the case will be dismissed. The Miranda warning is only required when a suspect is taken into custody and makes statements in response to police questioning.

In Police Custody

Miranda only applies after a suspect is taken into custody. Anything you say to the police before you are taken into custody is fair game. For example, police are often called to domestic disputes. To learn what is happening, they ask questions. Anything you say to the police in this context, i.e., before you have been placed under arrest, can be used against you. Miranda does not apply because you are not in police custody.

But when a suspect makes statements after being taken into custody without having been advised of their Miranda rights, their statements will be excluded from trial.

Statements in Response to Police Questioning

Similarly, Miranda only applies to statements made in response to police questions. Anything you voluntarily admit to a police officer can be used against you.

Suppose, for example, that you have been placed under arrest on suspicion of DUI (Driving Under the Influence). You’re riding to the police station in the back of the police car and begin talking to the officer to fill the silence. These statements can be used against you because you are making them voluntarily, after having been advised of your Miranda rights, and because the statements are not in response to questions being asked by the police officer.

Why Are Miranda Rights Important?

Even though Miranda only applies in limited circumstances, your Miranda rights are fundamental and serve as an important check on police power.

If police officers violate your Miranda rights by asking you questions while you are in custody after you have asked to speak to a lawyer, anything you say is presumed to be involuntary and will be excluded from consideration at trial.

In addition, any evidence that was discovered as a result of any involuntary statements will also be excluded.

While excluding certain statements or other evidence from trial may not seem like a big deal, in the hands of a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney, it can mean the difference between a conviction and a finding of Not Guilty.

If your lawyer can successfully argue to exclude certain evidence, the prosecutor’s job becomes much more difficult. When certain pieces of evidence are unavailable, the prosecutor will be more likely to negotiate a plea to a lesser crime or a less severe sentence. In some cases, the prosecutor may even realize that they are unlikely to secure a conviction without a key piece of evidence and may agree to dismiss the case entirely.

Contact The Lebedevitch Law Firm for Criminal Defense in Fairfield, CT

Even though Miranda only applies in particular circumstances, the decision encapsulates core principles of American democracy.

If you have been charged with a crime in Fairfield or New Haven counties, it is critical that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side who can advise you of the consequences of legal decisions you make and fight to protect your rights.

To learn more, read about The Lebedevitch Law Firm, LLC and its founder, Stephen Lebedevitch. Then contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation and how we can help.

Based in Fairfield, Connecticut, The Lebedevitch Law Firm represents people who have been accused of crimes throughout Stamford, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Darien, Rowayton, Fairfield, Trumbull, Westport, Wilton, Weston, Danbury, New Haven, Bethany, Woodbridge, Milford, Stratford, Bridgeport, and all throughout the State of Connecticut.