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How Crucial Are My Miranda Rights?

The short answer is “very.” However, that answer is not sufficient. Before you are in the stressful position of being questioned by a Tennessee law enforcement officer regarding a criminal matter, you should understand your Miranda rights and why they are so crucial.

Per FindLaw, the Miranda warning comes from the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. Since then, officers have been required to inform you of your rights to remain silent and have an attorney. But they are not required to Mirandize you before they arrest you.

Your universal rights

Your rights to remain silent and have an attorney present when law enforcement officials question you stem from your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and your Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Innocent people, though, never think they are going to incriminate themselves by voluntarily talking with the police without a lawyer since they know they have done nothing wrong. After all, they do not want to seem uncooperative and therefore suspicious.

This is a very dangerous and self-defeating attitude. What you need to remember is that when officers are conducting a criminal investigation, they are not your friend. They are trying to determine who committed a crime, and they can go to great lengths to do so. For instance, while you are required to tell them the truth, they are not required to be truthful with you. They have the right to lie to you and often do so.

Asserting your rights

While you should never “mouth off” to law enforcement officers, neither should you assume you must answer any question they ask you other than telling them your name and providing your identification. You should respectfully decline to answer any additional questions without having your attorney present, whether or not you are actually under arrest. Once you say you want an attorney, all questioning must stop until your attorney arrives.

Your Miranda right to have an attorney appointed for you if you cannot afford one arises only at the point of your arrest. Before then, you must hire an attorney if, for instance, officers ask you to come in and talk with them because “you were there and know what happened.” For your own protection, either respectfully decline the request or take an attorney with you. This is general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice.