Everyone who watches television or goes to the movies has heard it: “You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you. . .” But as I have discovered from experience, not everyone understands what the Miranda rights actually mean, or what the implications are if the police fail to “read you your rights.”
In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona, the Court responded to law enforcement’s long history of eliciting confessions from defendants through coercive interrogation methods. Miranda established procedural safeguards to ensure that a suspect in police custody who chose to confess to a crime or make otherwise inculpatory statements, did so voluntarily. These safeguards include advising an in-custody suspect that he is not required to talk to the police and that he has the right to be represented by an attorney. While most people understand what Miranda requires the police to do, many do not understand what happens when police fail to follow the rules. A failure to read a suspect his rights DOES NOT mean that the case will be automatically dismissed. In fact, it almost never means that. What it does mean, is that any statements made by a defendant in violation of his Miranda rights can not be used in the Government’s case against that defendant.
So how does this work in real life? Take this example: you are arrested for Driving While Intoxicated. The police take you back to the station and throw you in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, they bring you into an interrogation room, and ask you questions about how much you had to drink. You want to be helpful and honest with them, so you tell them that you had three beers and a shot of tequila. Now this statement would be pretty helpful for the Government at a trial against you. But if the police did not advise you of your Miranda rights before questioning you, the Government will be unable to introduce your statement against you at trial. That does not mean that they won’t put on evidence about your driving behavior or performance on the field sobriety tests. They simply will not be able to tell the judge or jury that you admitted to drinking
Keep in mind that the suppression of improperly obtained statements will not automatically occur. In every case, your attorney will determine whether there are statements that should be suppressed, and if appropriate, will file a motion with the court asking the judge to order that the statements cannot be used. Of course, all of this becomes a moot point if you simply decide not to make statements to the police. Until you have spoken with an attorney, that is almost always the best policy.