July 1, 2015

Miranda Warning – Custodial Interrogation

Most of the laws that he hold dear in our hearts relate to our individual rights and liberties. Americans also recognize that these laws should apply the same to all people regardless of the severity of the crime itself.

We are all familiar with the Miranda warning from various television programs. Most Americans can even recite the Miranda warning in some detail. We will not go over the exact phrasing of the warning because, honestly, it is not very important. The Supreme Court emphasized that a police officer does not have to recite the exact phase.  A general warning explaining 5th and 6th amendment rights followed by the question whether an individual understands those rights will suffice.

The Supreme Court ruled on the set of “Miranda warning” cases in 1966, the Miranda v. Arizona being the seminal case. By 1966, police has moved away from physical interrogation techniques, but the use of metal/psychological coercion in order to seek confessions was still prevalent. Many of the tactics are still legal and used today by police officers. But the Miranda warning is meant to be a safeguard against these coercive tactics.

Custodial Interrogation

interrogation-3Keep in mind that Miranda warnings apply only in custodial interrogations. If a person comes to the police station and voluntarily states incriminating information the warning does not apply. That person is not in custody.

A person is in custody when a reasonable person in his/her situation would not feel free to leave. Custody is measured by the totality of circumstances. If you are stopped on the street, the court will later look at the entire situation. How many officers were around you? Were their hands on their weapons? Could you simply walk around? Were you blocked in? And so on.

Interrogation means governmental questioning reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect. Again, the court will look at whether the question was direct and related to the crime.

From the television shows (i.e. COPS), we can see many police officers reading the Miranda warnings when the person is first being arrested. At that time, the suspect might be in custody; after all he/she is in handcuffs and does not feel free to leave. But he/she might not be interrogated, thus the warning is technically not required. Many officers feel safer providing those warning to the suspect early on so they don’t forget later.

If the suspect wants to invoke his rights to silence and/or counsel, he must do so unambiguously.  He can also waive his rights with a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent decision. We see a large amount of litigation over the meaning of the waiver. Does he have to say “YES”? Or can he say UHH HUH? Or can he say “OK”?

What if the police violated my Miranda Rights?

If the police violate the Miranda rights, the coerced statement will not come in as evidence in trial. There appears to be some confusion about the consequences of the violation among general public and the news media. The case DOES NOT get thrown out just because the police did not read the suspect his/her rights. The prosecutor may still rely on other evidence without the coerced statement in seeking the guilty verdict. The only way the case will be dismissed is if the ONLY evidence connecting the suspect to the crime is the coerced incriminating statement. Take the Miranda case itself; the ONLY evidence connecting Ernesto Arturo Miranda to the crime was his statement. But Ernesto Miranda was retried and subsequently convicted in 2nd trial. He was convicted because other evidence came to light during the second trial (actual witnesses were located). The prosecution still could NOT use the statement in the second trial, but it also did not need to with the additional incriminating evidence.

The belief that no Miranda warning equals a case dismissal is simply not true. Violation of Miranda warning equals the coerced statement does not come in as evidence at trial.