Custodial Interrogation

While many people believe that if they are not read the Miranda Warning that their charges will be summarily dismissed by the courts, this is not necessarily true. The Miranda Warning is about protecting your rights as far as police interrogation or questioning against your will. Historically there was concern that police were too intimidating in their questioning and frightened suspects into confessing a crime they may not have committed or pressured them into giving evidence against themselves.

Many people mistakenly believe that if they speak willingly to police officers, ‘telling all’ freely, and they have not been Mirandized before they speak, the police will not be able to use that confession at a trial. Don’t bank on it: if you confess to a crime or speak willingly without being “Mirandized,” that information may be presented at a trial. The police could prove that they would have discovered this evidence without your assistance, which allows them to use the information.

Being read the Miranda Warning is a clue that police intend to use your answers to their questions as evidence at a trial, if that happens. They may ask you questions without reading the Miranda Warning if they are concerned for the immediate safety of others, and your answers may be used against you at a trial. Most often the question is, Do I have to respond to police questioning if I have not been read my rights? The Miranda Warning protects your Fifth Amendment Constitutional rights:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The key wording here is about giving evidence against yourself. The Miranda Warning gives you the information you need to know to make an informed decision about answering police questions so you are not placed in a situation of giving testimony against yourself.

Refusing to answer questions casts some suspicion, of course, but if you are guiltyof some crime or feel that you might incriminate yourself even if you are not guilty, you should request to have an attorney present or speak to an attorney before being questioned. Certainly you will make your defense attorney’s job easier if you politely decline to answer questions if you have reason to believe you may be guilty of a crime.

Police have their own defenses to every situation, however, so do not think that simply because you confess your sins willingly that they cannot use that information in a trial. They can often prove that they would have discovered this evidence anyway, without your confession or assistance, in which case it can be used against you. They cannot intimidate or coerce you into giving answers; this is known as ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’ While some verbal pressure is reasonable, if you are unfairly intimidated or frightened into giving information, it will not likely be admissible at your trial.

If you have been Mirandized and you waive your rights, meaning you wish to speak to police freely without an attorney present, you can change your mind at any time and ‘plead the fifth,’ meaning you no longer wish to answer questions, or that you have changed your mind and wish to have an attorney present after all.

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