Miranda Rights

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Introduction

“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 appointed for you.”

These are your Miranda Rights. You have probably heard them before on TV or in movies, but what do they really mean and when must the police give them to you?

History

The Miranda Rights derive from the Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). This case represented a consolidation of four criminal cases, in which all the defendants confessed to crimes after being interrogated by the police without being informed of his Fifth Amendment rights prior to the interrogation. The Fifth Amendment includes the right against self-incrimination (“No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”)

The lead defendant, Ernesto Miranda, was arrested for kidnapping and raping a woman in Arizona. Miranda was identified by the woman in a lineup ten days after the alleged assault. The police then brought Miranda to an interrogation room at the station and questioned him. After two hours, Miranda confessed to committing the crime in writing. Miranda included a statement in his written confession that he understood his legal rights, however the police never informed him of his right to remain silent. At trial, the prosecution presented Miranda’s confession to the jury and he was convicted.

Miranda appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court, who overturned his conviction and granted him a new trial. The Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment requires police officers to advise suspects of their right to remain silent and their right to obtain an attorney during interrogation while in police custody. The Supreme Court reasoned that these rights must be given to suspects before they can make a knowing and intelligent waiver of these rights. The Supreme Court set forth that evidence of a confession cannot be used against a defendant at trial unless the prosecution can provide that the warnings were given and that the rights were knowingly waived.

After Miranda’s second trial the prosecution was unable to present his confession to the jury, however, he was still convicted.

Application

The police must give you Miranda Warnings when (1) you are in police custody, and (2) you are subject to police interrogation. If a suspect is in custody and questioned by the police without receiving Miranda Warnings, any statements made by the defendant are inadmissible at trial. This is done by filing a motion to suppress. Note that for the purposes of Miranda, being in “custody” is not limited to being formally arrested. You are in custody for the purposes of Miranda when the police have deprived you of your freedom in a significant way, so that you are not free to leave. In this situation, police are required to provide the Miranda Warnings before questioning you.

Miranda Warnings are not required in order to admit a statement from a defendant who volunteered a statement without any police questioning. For example, if after being arrested, while in the rear of the cruiser, a defendant shouts – “Fine, I admit it, I did it.” The prosecution may admit this confession at trial, it does not matter that the defendant was not given his Miranda Warnings because they were not being questioned by police.

Additional Rights in Massachusetts

In addition to the Miranda Rights, criminal defendants in Massachusetts also have additional rights where the prosecution seeks to admit a confession. Under Massachusetts common law – which predates Miranda, the prosecution must prove a defendants’ confession was voluntary in order to admit the confession as evidence at trial.

A judge must conduct a hearing outside the presence of the jury to determine whether a confession is voluntary before it can be presented to the jury by the prosecution. An involuntary confession is excluded from the jury. However, even if the judge finds the confession is voluntary, the jury is instructed that if they are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s statement is voluntary, they should not consider the statement as evidence. See Commonwealth v. Watkins, 425 Mass. 830, 834 (1997).

If Your Miranda Rights Were Violated

If you were questioned by police in your criminal case, contact McCormack Law today to determine your legal options.

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