They Didn’t Read Me My Rights!

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  • June 26, 2013

They Didn’t Read Me My Rights!

Many times, clients say something like, “the officer didn’t read me my rights, so my case will get thrown out, right?”  Or, my client will say something like, “I don’t know if it’s important, but nobody read me my rights.”

What, if anything, is the significance of not being “read your rights?”  The answer is found in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), a U.S. Supreme Court case that established a “bright-line” rule to govern custodial interrogation.  In Miranda, police officers arrested Ernesto Miranda and took him into custody.  At the police station, officers questioned him but did not tell Miranda that he had a right to have an attorney present.  Hours later, Miranda signed a written confession after having verbally confessed to the officers.  Based on Miranda’s verbal and written confessions, a jury convicted Miranda of kidnapping and rape, and he was sentenced to 20 to 30 years imprisonment on each count.

On appeal, the Supreme Court found that “without proper safeguards the process of in-custody interrogation contains inherently compelling procedures which work to undermine the individual’s will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely.”  The Court then famously held that “[i]n order to combat those pressures and to permit a full opportunity to exercise the privilege against self-incrimination, the accused must be adequately and effectively apprised of his rights and the exercise of those rights must be fully honored.”

The Court went on to define the exact warnings that must be administered if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation.  Those warnings are:

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1. You have the right to remain silent,

2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court,

3. You have the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with you during interrogation, and

4. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you.

Because Mr. Miranda was not in any way apprised of his right to consult with an attorney and to have one present during the interrogation, nor was his right not to be compelled to incriminate himself effectively protected in any other manner, his verbal and written statements were inadmissible.  The Court reversed the judgment.

Thus, the Court established the bright-line rule to avoid the “inherently coercive nature of custodial interrogation.”  Miranda (1966)

However, the bright-line rule in Miranda only applies to exclude evidentiary statements.  It does not apply to exclude an officer’s observations of physical manifestations, such as the odor of alcohol on a person’s breath or person or one’s performance of standardized field sobriety tests in a DUI case.  In such cases, by the time the driver has been taken into custody, the officer has already gathered all the evidence needed to prosecute the case.  There is simply no reason to interrogate the driver further at the station.  Because there is no custodial interrogation, there is no need for the driver to be warned, or reminded, that she has the right to remain silent or the other rights enumerated above.