Anyone who has ever seen a show or movie in which someone gets arrested has probably heard the police officer say something along the lines of “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you…” Most people have learned that these are referred to as Miranda rights. However, because of Hollywood’s tendency to tweak reality in order to make things more entertaining, most people don’t really know what Miranda rights are, when police have to read them to someone, or what happens if the police don’t actually read someone their Miranda rights. The goal of this article is to briefly explain what Miranda rights are, when they apply, and what happens if someone’s Miranda rights have been violated.

  1. What are Miranda rights?

Miranda rights are called Miranda rights because they come from a 1966 opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case Miranda v. Arizona.[1] These rights are based on the Supreme Court’s application of a person’s Fifth Amendment rights. The Fifth Amendment covers a few things, but in the context of Miranda rights it is a person’s protection from being forced to testify against themselves or incriminate themselves. The Supreme Court decided that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination equally applies when a person is being questioned by the police. In order to protect this right the Supreme Court specifically held that a person has the right to be told that they have “a right to remain silent, that any statement [they do] make may be used as evidence against [them], and that [they have] a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed.”[2] Therefore, Miranda rights are less about a person’s right to remain silent and more about the right of a person to be told about their rights before any questioning or interrogation starts.

  1. When do Miranda rights apply?

A common misconception is that the police have to read a person their Miranda rights every time the police arrest someone. The truth is the police don’t always have to read a person their Miranda rights. The Supreme Court held that a person is required to be informed of their Miranda rights during a custodial interrogation, which the Supreme Court defined as “questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.”[3] Therefore, two facts need to be true for Miranda rights to apply; 1) a person is in custody, and 2) the police begin asking questions. If the police don’t start asking questions after they have arrested someone they do not have to read that person their Miranda rights.

  • What happens if a person is not read their Miranda rights?

As discussed above, Miranda rights don’t always have to be read. If the police were not required to read someone their Miranda rights under the law, then they did not do anything wrong and there is nothing that can be done. However, if the police were required to read someone their Miranda rights and failed to do so, there is something that can be done. In that situation a defense attorney can file what is called a Motion to Suppress and ask for the court to order that nothing the person said can be used against them during a trial. Essentially, any confession or incriminating statements get thrown out and if the case goes to trial in front of a jury, the jurors are never told that the person admitted to anything.

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[1] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

[2] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966)

[3] Id.

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