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What Are Miranda Rights, and When Should They Be Read?

Anyone who has watched a TV crime drama has seen an officer deliver a warning to a suspect at the point of arrest that begins, “You have the right to remain silent,” and goes on to spell out other rights the suspect has. But why do police recite this warning? And at what point is it actually required?

The requirement to read a suspect his rights comes from a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. Ernesto Miranda was taken into police custody and interrogated about a kidnapping. Unaware that he had the right not to say anything, Miranda confessed to the crime but later recanted. Miranda was convicted of the crime but appealed, and his appeal went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court overturned Miranda’s conviction and held that a suspect’s constitutional rights are meaningless if he doesn’t know he has them. The Court ordered law enforcement on every level throughout the country to inform suspects of their basic rights. These rights include a Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions and a Sixth Amendment right to have an attorney present even if the suspect is unable to pay for one.

The standard text of a Miranda warning is as follows:

“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 provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

If police fail to Mirandize a suspect, any admission he makes will not be admissible in a court of law.

The timing of the Miranda warning can be tricky. Police must Mirandize someone they’ve arrested, but they often question suspects before making an arrest. The point in time at which the police should have warned a suspect of his right to remain silent is often a matter of controversy in criminal trials. Police want to get as much information as possible before a suspect “lawyers up,” but if they go too far in their questioning, an aggressive criminal defense lawyer can charge they violated the suspect’s Miranda rights and argue that any statements the suspect made should be thrown out.

The Giatras Law Firm, PLLC is a respected Charleston, West Virginia law firm known for providing clients with aggressive defense representation. Call us or contact our firm online to schedule a free consultation.