Understanding Your Miranda Rights
Miranda warnings are an incredibly important procedural protection for people who are the subject of a police investigation or police questioning. However, there are limitations to the protections provided by Miranda warnings and the remedies available to a criminal defendant who has his or her Miranda rights violated. In the case of Miranda v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court held that any time a person is subjected to custodial interrogation, the prosecution may not use any statements made by the defendant in court unless the police first provided certain warnings to the defendant prior to questioning. If you have ever watched a police procedural TV show, then you are probably familiar with the warnings. Prior to a custodial interrogation, the police must provide the following warnings:
When Do The Police Have To Give Miranda Warnings?
Miranda warnings are required whenever the police subject a person to a custodial interrogation. Custodial interrogation requires that two elements be present: first, the defendant must be in custody, and second the defendant must be interrogated.
A defendant is in custody for Miranda purposes when the defendant is deprived of his physical freedom in a significant way, or when the defendant reasonably believes that his or her freedom of action is restricted by the interrogation. In some cases, it is obvious that the defendant is in custody. If the defendant is placed in handcuffs, transported to the station in a patrol car, and then questioned in a holding cell or interrogation room, then a court is likely to find that the defendant was in custody for Miranda purposes.
However, there are more difficult cases in which the defendant is not free to leave or has been subjected to some display of police authority, but the defendant may not be in custody for Miranda purposes. Miranda custody requires the equivalent of a formal arrest. Therefore, Miranda does not typically apply during a routine traffic stop or in situations where the defendant is merely being detained for a Terry stop and frisk. Thus, if the defendant tells a state trooper that he has drugs in the car after being pulled over for speeding, Miranda is likely not going to keep that type of confession out of evidence.
Ultimately, a court will look at the totality of the circumstances in determining whether a reasonable person would have believed themselves to be under arrest. Factors which the courts will consider could include the location of the questioning, the number of officers involved, the statements made by the officers as to whether the defendant is free to leave or under arrest, the degree to which the questioning involves confronting the suspect with incriminating evidence or contradictions in previous statements, the use of handcuffs, and whether officers transport the defendant to another location. If questioning occurs while the defendant is not in custody, then the police are not required to first provide Miranda warnings.
Police are also only required to provide Miranda warnings when the defendant is subjected to an interrogation. An interrogation means that the police tried to obtain incriminating information form the defendant. If the police do not ask any questions or say anything to the defendant, then the police are not required to provide Miranda warnings. For example, if police arrest a criminal defendant and the defendant blurts out something incriminating, then the statement may be used in court despite the absence of Miranda warnings.
Whether questioning constitutes an interrogation does not depend on the subjective intent of the law enforcement officer. Instead, an interrogation occurs when the police ask questions or make statements which are reasonably likely to, calculated to, or expected to evoke incriminating admissions and develop contradictions. Further, appellate courts have held that Miranda warnings may be required even when the officer does not ask an actual question. If an officer makes a statement that is reasonably likely to get the defendant talking or to respond in some incriminating way, then the officer's statement could qualify as an interrogation despite the absence of an actual question. However, it is clear that the officer must actually do something that leads to the defendant's statement in order for the Miranda rule to apply.
What Happens If The Police Don't Give You Your Miranda Warnings?
The remedy for a Miranda violation is simple: if the police do not provide Miranda warnings prior to a custodial interrogation, then any statements made by the defendant during that interrogation may not be used in court against the defendant. There are limitations to this protection, however, because the police may still use derivative evidence that they find as a result of the statement. For example, if the police violate Miranda and question the defendant, and the defendant provides the location of incriminating physical evidence, the incriminating physical evidence may be introduced at trial against the defendant, but the defendant's statement may not be used. This can still be problematic because the evidence may have the defendant's fingerprints or DNA on it. Likewise, a Miranda violation does not lead to an automatic dismissal of a criminal case. It simply means that the prosecutor cannot use the statement against the defendant in court. If the prosecution has other evidence, then the prosecution can still proceed to trial.
There is one major exception to the rule that derivative evidence obtained through Miranda violations may be introduced at trial. Detectives may not obtain a confession in violation of Miranda, immediately provide Miranda warnings, and re-interrogate the defendant to obtain the same incriminating statement. In cases where an un-Mirandized confession leads to a subsequent Mirandized confession, even the subsequent, Mirandized confession often may not be used in court because of the prior illegality.
However, there are limitations to this rule. If the prosecution can show a break in the chain between the first and second confession, then it may be possible to use the subsequent confession. Again, a court will employ a totality of the circumstances case which looks at factors such as the amount of time between confessions, the locations of the confessions, whether the same officers are involved, and whether the defendant has the opportunity to consult with an attorney or friends and family.
How Is Miranda Enforced?
If you believe that your Miranda rights have been violated, then your criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to suppress the resulting statement in the trial court. The court will then conduct a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, the Commonwealth will have to prove that the statement was legally obtained by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the prosecution must call the witnesses who were involved in the taking of the statement to testify. Likewise, the defense may call either third-party eyewitnesses or the defendant to testify. If the court concludes that the defendant was subjected to custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings, then the court will issue an order suppressing the statement and forbidding the prosecution from introducing it at trial.
Facing Criminal Charges? We Can Help
If you are under investigation or facing criminal charges, we can help. Miranda protections are important, but your best bet is always to speak with a criminal defense lawyer prior to giving a statement to detectives. It is always difficult to have an incriminating statement suppressed, which is why it is extremely important to speak with an attorney first. Call us at 267-225-2545 to speak with an award-winning Philadelphia, PA defense attorney today.