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Common misconceptions about Miranda rights

Nearly everyone who has ever watched a crime show knows about Miranda rights. After a criminal apprehension, the arresting officer will say something like this:

"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 what I have just said?"

The exact wording can vary somewhat as long as the officer conveys the basic meaning of the rights. Miranda rights are universal and apply to every person arrested in the U.S., whether they are a citizen or a foreign national. But although there is widespread knowledge of the existence of Miranda rights, many people have misconceptions about them.

Can an officer interrogate you without reading the rights? Does an officer always have to read a person their rights? Are there any exceptions to Miranda? Is it ever in a person's interests to waive Miranda rights? The answers to these questions might surprise you.

About Miranda rights

The term "Miranda rights" (also referred to as a "Miranda warning") stems from the Miranda v. Arizona case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966. In essence, the ruling reaffirms the Fifth Amendment's right of a person to refuse to answer self-incriminating questions.

Can an officer interrogate you without reading Miranda rights?

The requirement to inform a person of Miranda rights goes into effect only if the police intend to question a person under custody. Prior to taking a person into custody or making an arrest, a police officer is free to ask questions and can use the information gained as a basis to continue an investigation or to take a person into custody.

Does an officer always have to read a person their Miranda rights?

If an officer has already gained the evidence needed to make an arrest, the answer is no. A DUI case is a good example. When an officer asks you to perform field sobriety tests or answer questions about drinking, you are not technically in custody. Therefore, the results of the field sobriety tests and your answers to questions can be used against you in court. Once a person has been arrested for DUI the officer may issue a Miranda warning, but by then the damage is done. 

Are there any exceptions to Miranda rights?

There are three exceptions to the Miranda requirement. Police can continue to ask questions even after a person has invoked his or her Miranda rights in these circumstances:

1. Routine identity questions - An officer is free to ask simple questions about your name, address, occupation, and other information that does not reveal incriminating information.

2. Jailhouse informants - Only police are required to follow the Miranda rule. A statement made to a fellow jailhouse inmate can be used in court.

3. Public safety - When there is an imminent danger to the public, such as a possible terrorist attack, the police are free to continue to question a person. Information gained from these questions can be used in court.

Is it ever in a person's interests to waive Miranda rights?

The answer to this question is always no. Even if you are innocent of a crime, it is in your best interests to stay silent. If you are suspected of a crime or have been arrested, the best thing to do is to refuse to talk with police without the presence of a lawyer.

If you have been arrested or the police want to question you about your possible involvement in a crime, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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