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Miranda Warnings: Know Your Constitutional Rights

Miranda Warnings: Know Your Constitutional Rights

Anyone who watches television crime dramas is familiar with the scene when the police officer cuffs the suspect and says: “You have the right to remain silent . . .” But if it is you who is being taken away in a squad car, you need to know much more about these important words – the Miranda warnings.

What Are The Miranda Warnings?

Under the United States Constitution, you have certain fundamental rights. The Fifth Amendment protects an arrested person from self-incrimination: being compelled to be “a witness against himself.” The Sixth Amendment guarantees that a person shall “have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

In a landmark court decision in 1966 – Miranda v. Arizona – the Supreme Court ruled it is a violation of these 5th and 6th Amendment rights to allow a prosecutor to use in evidence at trial an incriminating statement by a criminal suspect who was not told about these important constitutional protections available to him. So, after this important case, police were required, in certain circumstances, to inform suspects about these rights.

These explanations – “dubbed the Miranda warnings” after this famous case – are required by police before they interrogate anyone already under arrest in police custody, or in a functionally equivalent setting known as “custodial interrogation.”

Is specific language required?

The Supreme Court did not specify exact wording required when informing a suspect of these constitutional rights, but set out clear guidelines:

The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he/she has the right to remain silent, and that anything the person says will be used against that person in court; the person must be clearly informed that he/she has the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and that, if he/she is indigent, an attorney will be provided at no cost to represent him/her.

In later rulings, the court made clear that, as long as the information is adequately and fully conveyed, no particular language is mandatory and the warnings do not have to be given in any particular order.

What language is used in New York?

A state must follow the U.S. Constitution in connection with any standard for protection of federal constitutional rights, but it is free to adopt – via its own state constitution or by law – tighter standards to minimize law enforcement and prosecution abuses. 

Even as the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years has eroded some of the Miranda protections, most states – including New York – have adopted stronger constitutional protections for criminal suspects.

In addition to the four “warnings” required under Miranda, in New York, police also ask the following:

  1. Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you?
  2. Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?

An affirmative answer to both of the above questions waives the rights. If the suspect responds “no” to the first question, the officer is required to re-read the Miranda warning. In either case, the officer cannot question the suspect unless and until these rights are waived.

Are the Miranda Warnings Required Whenever a Person is Arrested?

No. The purpose of the Miranda warnings is to protect suspects from the compulsion inherent in the intimidating atmosphere attendant to arrest. “Custody” means either that the suspect was under arrest or that his freedom of movement was restrained to an extent that the situation can fairly be called a “custodial interrogation.”

In addition to the custodial setting, the Miranda warnings are required only when the police intend to begin an interrogation. Although generally the Miranda warnings are given as soon as a suspect is arrested, technically they are not required until the police are about to begin questioning the person.

What happens if they are not given?

If law enforcement fail to offer these warnings to an individual, they may still question that person and act on leads and information gained, but they may not use that person’s statements to incriminate him or her if the case later goes to trial.

Even if the warnings are not given, the suspect still has, and can rely on, the right to remain silent.

Are Miranda warnings required whenever police ask questions?

No. Since the trigger for the Miranda warnings is a custodial setting plus an imminent interrogation, police are not required to issue these warnings if an arrest or custodial situation is absent. Also, certain routine questions during “booking” about the person’s identity are permitted even absent the suspect not having been “Mirandized.”

What Should a Person Do When He or She is Arrested?

Whether or not the Miranda warnings have been given, a criminal suspect should expressly and clearly tell police he or she invokes the right to remain silent without a lawyer present, and that he or she wants to contact an attorney. If the accused cannot afford counsel or arrange to have one immediately present, then he or she should ask that counsel be appointed. After that, the person should remain silent until an attorney is there to represent him or her.

If you are facing criminal charges in the New York City area, contact criminal defense attorney Gilbert Parris to discuss your legal options. Gilbert Parris represents clients charged with various crimes throughout the greater New York City area including Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan.