If you watch any American television, particularly police dramas, you are familiar with: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you.” This warning statement is what is known as Miranda Rights.
Whenever a police officer questions a suspect who is in custody (this is known as “custodial interrogation”), they must first read the suspect their Miranda rights. Until the officer reads this warning, no incriminating testimony from the suspect may be used against them at trial.
If you are facing charges and did not receive a Miranda warning, speak with an NYC civil rights lawyer as soon as possible because this omission may afford you very important protections.
The Constitutional basis of Miranda rights
Miranda rights are rooted in three amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment states, among other things, that an individual does not have to testify against themselves. The Sixth Amendment recognizes the right to legal counsel. The Fourteenth Amendment applies the federal Constitution’s prohibition on the government to the states.
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the landmark case Miranda v. Arizona, which gave the Miranda warning its name. In that case, the defendant, Ernesto Miranda, signed a confession admitting to kidnapping and rape after he was questioned for two hours without a lawyer.
Miranda’s lawyers fought to overturn his conviction because he was never advised that he had the right to an attorney and not to answer questions. The Supreme Court agreed, and he was awarded a new trial.
What Miranda requires
The Supreme Court ruling does not require police to follow an exact script. They must simply inform a suspect of their right to remain silent, that what they say can be used against them in court, they have the right to a lawyer, and the suspect must indicate that they understand.
This warning is required whenever the police question someone in custody. If you are not sure whether you are in custody, the test is whether you feel free to leave. If the situation indicates that you are not, you are probably in police custody, and the police must inform you of your Miranda rights.
If you are questioned while in police custody and are not first advised of your Miranda rights, the “exclusionary rule” is applied. This means any evidence the police wrongfully obtained cannot be used against you unless an exception applies.
When Miranda rights do not apply
As mentioned, a Miranda warning is only required when the police (or another state agent) is asking questions of a suspect in custody. In addition, only self-incriminating testimony is implicated; if the evidence is not testimonial (for example, if it includes a lineup or handwriting sample), then it does not need to be excluded. Finally, the statements may be used in other settings, even if they are excluded from a criminal trial.
What happens if the police do not read your Miranda rights?
The exclusionary rule is not automatically applied. If the New York City police overstep their bounds, your attorney will need to file a motion asking the court to declare any statements that you made inadmissible.
Your lawyer will also fight to keep out what is known as “the fruit of the poisonous tree.” Essentially, if inadmissible statements led the police to other evidence, that evidence must also be excluded. The prosecution may offer arguments that the court should still allow it. For example, they may argue that the evidence would have been discovered anyway, or that public safety demanded they act quickly without Mirandizing you. If this has happened to you– you need a lawyer who is skilled in countering these tactics.
Miranda fights involve complex legal analysis. Since the outcome can make or break a case, the stakes are high. Working with an experienced criminal lawyer is critical.
Talk with a New York City civil rights lawyer about your arrest
Miranda rights are just one of the requirements that the police must follow if they question or arrest you. The system may, in many ways, be stacked against you, so it is critical to take advantage of every protection that the law affords. Do not wait to speak with a New York City civil rights lawyer at Friedman, Levy, Goldfarb & Green to find out how we can help.