This is the second part of a three-part series on Miranda Warnings. You can find Part One here.
Have you ever been arrested? Have the police questioned you at the police station? Did the police read you your Miranda rights before asking for details of the crime they think you committed?
This kind of questioning usually looks something like this: the police call you to the station. They place you in a room when you arrive. You are not free to leave. An officer comes into the room. He tells you that he already knows what happened. Maybe he shows you a picture or two. He reads you your Miranda rights and asks if you will talk to him. Sometimes, the police officer will give you a written Miranda waiver form to sign.
You might think at this point that there is no point in staying silent. The officer said he already knows what happened. Maybe he’ll let you go if you tell him the truth. So, you sign the waiver. You tell the officer what happened, or why you did something. Then you write your story and sign it.
You’ve just waived your Miranda rights. Not only that, you’ve given the state a substantial piece of ammunition to use against you in court! Finally, you’ve made your defense attorney’s job much more difficult.
But, what are our Miranda rights, anyway? What do they mean? How do they protect me?
You have the right to remain silent
This right means exactly what it says. You have the right to remain silent. This right doesn’t necessarily apply across the board though. You still have to tell the police your name and basic identifying information. Never give a fake name though. That is a chargeable offense.
You have the right to remain silent the second the police ask questions about the anything other than who you are. You cannot be arrested or charged for using this right!
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law – This is the consequence you face if you waive your right to silence. The above statement, also, means exactly what it says.
If you tell the police where you hid something (weapons, money, drugs, etc.), the police will find it. The State will then use whatever you hid as evidence against you in court. The State will also be able to say that you are definitely guilty because the police found the evidence in the place you said it was hidden.
You have the right to an attorney
The Constitution gives us two distinct rights to an attorney. We have a Fifth and Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Fifth Amendment right to counsel applies before you are arrested. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches as soon as criminal proceedings are initiated against you.
This article talks about your Fifth Amendment rights under Miranda.
You must ask for an attorney to use this right. When you say, “I want an attorney” all questioning must stop. The police cannot ask any more questions until your attorney arrives unless you re-initiate the conversation.
This right applies equally to poor and rich people. You will be appointed a lawyer to help you during questioning if you cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Don’t let money stop you from exercising your Constitutional rights!
You have the right to use your rights
Try to think of criminal law as a game. The State wants to put you in jail. The Supreme Court says that the State has to jump through a certain number of hoops before it can lock you up. But the State knows that there is an easy way to skip those hoops – encourage suspects to waive their Miranda rights.
Do you want to make it easier on the State to put you in jail? NO!
Do you want to make the State jump through every single Constitutionally required hoop to put you in jail? YES!
Your liberty is at stake when you waive your Miranda rights. Think about that. Don’t make it easier on the State than it needs to be.
Part Three of this series will teach you how to assert your rights. It will also teach you about exceptions that may apply.