When it comes to dealing with the police and criminal law, there are some common mistaken beliefs about the rights of people under criminal investigation. One of the most widespread misconceptions has to do with Miranda warnings, commonly known as “being read your rights.”
Many people base their understanding of this area of criminal procedure on what they have seen on television and in movies. Unfortunately, the Hollywood version of police procedure is designed to create drama and excitement but is not really based on legal reality.
The Police have to read me my rights.
If there is one thing you should take away from this discussion, let it be that the police are never actually required to read you your rights. Not only do they not have to “Mirandize you” at the time you are arrested, it is entirely possible that the police can take you into custody, charge you, and convict you of a crime without ever being obligated to read you your rights.
What if the police don’t read me my rights?
The purpose of a Miranda warning is to inform somebody who is in police custody that they do not have to answer questions without a lawyer and that they have a right to get a lawyer even if they cannot afford to hire one on their own. This set of rights only becomes relevant when somebody has been taken into custody and is about to be questioned. As a result, the police would not usually Mirandize a suspect unless they are about to interrogate them.
Should they fail to read you those rights prior to a custodial interrogation then the consequence is that any answers you gave to questions you were asked while in police custody would not be admissible in court. Note that this does not mean that the whole case gets thrown out.
Keep in mind also the situations where having your rights read does not apply: if you are asked questions when you are not in custody, they don’t have to read you your rights. Statements made freely that are not a result of being asked questions are also not covered, so anything that you “blurt out” on your own would be fair game. And once you have been Mirandized you can waive your right to remain silent and agree to answer questions, though you probably should not.
What do the police have to tell me?
The Miranda warnings are very specific. They inform a person of his or her right to refuse to answer questions posed to them by the police. They also state that the person has the right to talk to an attorney.
Remember that your right to remain silent is only one of many rights that you have, and the police are not required to tell you about all of them. For example, the police are under no legal obligation to inform you that you have the right to refuse to consent to a search of your home or property. Your Constitutional rights are important, so if you are under investigation for a crime it would be wise to consult with a criminal defense attorney at an early stage in the process to make sure you know what your rights are and how to protect them.