At least once a week I have someone tell me the police didn't read them their Miranda warnings. Everyone knows what they are: you have the right to remain silent, the right to a lawyer, etc.. On TV, the police do it every time they arrest someone. But like most things on T,V that's not the way it happens in real life.
Miranda warnings came from a Supreme Court case styled Miranda v. Arizona. The case dealt with police questioning after they have arrested someone. Everyone has heard the expression "I take the Fifth". That's referring to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects people from incriminating themselves. Basically, that means you have the right to keep your mouth shut, and not talk. It comes up in several different ways, but the most common is when the police are trying to question you - like asking you how much you had to drink, or how many times you hit your wife.
The Supreme Court recognized that a police interrogation is not like most encounters. The police have the power, which they can use to try and get you to talk. And once you start talking, you are likely to say something that's going to help them prove their case. To balance that power out, the Supreme Court held that the police had to tell you certain things - one of which is that you don't have to talk to them, and if you do, anything you say can be used against you. They also have to tell you that you have the right to have a lawyer present if you want one.
There are two important limitations on Miranda:
- It only applies if you are in custody (which usually means if you've been arrested)
- It only applies if you are being questioned (i.e. they are asking you questions)
When warnings are required is a topic for a different discussion. The question answered here is what happens if the police don't "read your rights" to you. Most people who ask that question assume that it's important; maybe even important enough to invalidate the arrest. I can't begin to estimate the number of people who start our meeting with the statement that "the police didn't read me my rights". The response they get from me is not what they expect.
The fact is that the failure to give Miranda warnings is almost always a non-issue. It's only an issue if you were questioned after you were placed in custody. Consider a typical theft/shoplifting case. A store manager sees someone walk out with merchandise, and call the police. The person is arrested, and taken to jail without the officer reading the Miranda warnings. In that case, it makes no difference.
The situation would be different if after you get to the jail, a detective comes and talks to you and starts questioning. Before they do so they must give you the Miranda warnings, and if they don't, they can't use what you tell them against you.
The reality is that police rarely fail to give Miranda warnings before they start questioning you, so you probably need to look for another defense.
If you want more information on the Criminal Justice System, download a free copy of our book, The Layman's Guide to the Criminal Justice System. If you've been arrested in Waco, McLennan County, Bell County, Hill County or Falls County, and are looking for help, give us a call at 254-296-0020, or fill out our contact form.