Charlotte Criminal Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “Can I be arrested without evidence against me?”
“You have the right to remain silent…”, a phrase that almost all of us know, but few truly understand. The words are part of what has become known as a Miranda Warning or Miranda Rights. The Miranda Warning started 50 years ago in June and, in that time, has become deeply imbedded not only in criminal law, but in popular culture. Given the upcoming anniversary, now is a good time to spend a moment diving a bit deeper and learn what the Miranda Rights are and how they came to be.
Back in 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear an important case out of Arizona involving the rights of Ernesto Miranda, a man charged with rape, kidnapping and robbery. Prior to being interrogated, Miranda was never informed of his rights under the law. During the subsequent interrogation (which lasted more than two hours), Miranda is said to have confessed to committing the crimes. It was later discovered that Miranda had not finished the ninth grade and had a history of mental illness, yet the interrogation took place without a lawyer present.
Miranda was convicted at trial and sentenced to 20 years in prison, all on the basis of his confession. Miranda and his attorney appealed the conviction, arguing that the confession had been unconstitutionally obtained. The Arizona Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the conviction. In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to weigh in.
What did the Supreme Court decide?
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that prosecutors could not introduce evidence in a criminal trial if police failed to first inform a defendant of his or her rights, specifically, of the right to an attorney and against self-incrimination. The Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which gives a suspect the right to refuse to be a witness against himself, and the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to an attorney, were what required the police to issue such a warning. The Court decided that police are required to inform suspects of their rights when being detained or interrogated, an attempt to combat the widespread ignorance of the law by many criminal suspects. Because Ernesto Miranda was never informed of his rights, his conviction was reversed, though he was later retried and convicted without the use of his confession.
What are the Miranda Rights?
The Miranda Rights begin by noting that suspects have the right to remain silent and that anything said by the suspect can and will be used against them in a court of law. The Miranda Rights also require informing suspects that they have the right to an attorney and the attorney can accompany the suspect during any interrogation. Finally, suspects must also be advised that if they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them.
When are Miranda Warnings given?
The rule is that if a person is in police custody, he or she must be read the Miranda Rights before police can ask questions and use those answers as evidence. It doesn’t matter whether the questioning occurs in a jail, in the back of a police car, or even on the street, if the person is deprived or his or her freedom of action (meaning the person is not free to leave), then a Miranda Warning is required.
One thing to point out is that if a person is not in police custody, no Miranda Warning is necessary and anything the person says is fair game. Police might even sometimes use this loophole purposely, by avoiding arresting someone and making it clear to them that they are free to go. If the suspect sticks around and ends up saying something incriminating, the police might be able to use that statement against them.
What happens if police don’t advise you of your Miranda Rights?
If a police officer questions someone in custody without first providing a Miranda Warning, the law assumes that any statement made by the suspect is involuntary and thus cannot be used against the suspect in a future criminal case. Additionally, any evidence that is discovered as a result of the involuntary confession may also be thrown out court as this evidence is seen as tainted by the initial involuntary statement.
If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, please contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our attorneys stand at the ready to defend you against state or federal charges. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.
About the Author
Brad Smith is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of criminal defense, DUI / DWI defense and traffic defense.
Mr. Smith was born and raised in Charlotte. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney before entering private practice in 2006.
In his free time, Mr. Smith enjoys traveling, boating, golf, hiking and spending time with his wife and three children.
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