If you've ever seen a legal drama or procedural cop show, you know that when the bad guy (or girl) is arrested for committing the crime of the week, the arresting officer reads the perpetrator his or her rights.
These rights, called Miranda rights, can be stated in any number of ways. The following is one example:
"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?"
You may have wondered what the origin of these rights is. How did it come to be that every law enforcement agency across the country must inform a person under arrest that he or she has the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent? In 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona, 348 U.S. 436 (1966). It was in this case that the court expressly stated that a person under arrest must be made aware of their rights prior to any custodial questioning by law enforcement officers.
Miranda was actually a collection of four cases. In each case, a defendant who was taken into custody by the police and interrogated was not advised of his right to remain silent or his right to an attorney. The court held that in each case the "statements were obtained from the defendant under circumstances that did not meet constitutional standards for protection of the privilege."
The constitutional privilege referred to is the privilege against self-incrimination afforded to every United States citizen under the 5th Amendment. The 5th Amendment states:
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.
In Miranda, the court recognizes that this amendment requires every person subject to custodial interrogation be advised of their right to remain silent and their right to counsel. The court stated a custodial interrogation is "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." To protect the privilege of self-incrimination the court expressly held that:
"Prior to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed. The defendant may waive effectuation of these rights, provided the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently. If, however, he indicates in any manner and at any stage of the process that he wishes to consult with an attorney before speaking there can be no questioning. Likewise, if the individual is alone and indicates in any manner that he does not wish to be interrogated, the police may not question him. The mere fact that he may have answered some questions or volunteered some statements on his own does not deprive him of the right to refrain from answering any further inquiries until he has consulted with an attorney and thereafter consents to be questioned."
Miranda rights are fundamental rights afford to each and every person. It is important to be aware of these rights and what they mean in case there ever comes a time when you find yourself in police custody.