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Know Your Rights!

In 1963, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Miranda v. Arizona. In that landmark ruling, the Supreme Court set forth the most important rights provided to criminal suspects by the U.S. Constitution; those protections apply to state and Federal courts across the nation, and in every federal territory.
Those rights are as follows:

  1. You have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer the questions of police.
  2. If you do give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
  3. You have the right to the assistance of an attorney, before, during, and after questioning.
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you at public expense.

You’ve heard them before on TV or in the movies, right? Well, thanks to Hollywood, many people believe that Miranda rights are read whenever the police make an arrest. This is not correct. The rights must be read only if 1) the person is in custody (in other words, is not free to leave the police and go about his business, whether or not there has been a formal arrest), and 2) if the police intend to question him about the alleged crime. (It is not a Miranda violation for the police to ask for basic background information, such as name, age, date of birth, and the like.)

Courts often have to decide whether, in a given case, a Miranda violation has occurred; and the law on the subject is constantly changing. For example, the Supreme Court has held that, to exercise your right to remain silent, you must clearly tell the police that you intend to do so. If you merely remain mute, the cops can continue questioning you, and if you then give a statement that they think is incriminating, the courts will likely allow the statement to come into evidence.

Another example: if you wish to exercise your right to an attorney, you must say so, clearly and deliberately. You cannot say something equivocal, like, “I might need a lawyer,” or “Do you think I should get a lawyer?” Those expressions are not definite enough—and no police officer will ever encourage you to contact one. But if you simply and firmly say, “I want a lawyer,” or some other definite statement, the police are required to stop questioning you any further until a lawyer is provided.

Or if you are given a written Miranda warning form, you may see a question at the end similar to this: “Knowing your rights, are you now willing to talk to me without a lawyer present?” You should always mark the block for “No.”

Remember this: no one should ever try to talk his or her way out of getting arrested. The police are skilled in the art of interrogation; the detective sitting across the table will likely have years of experience in getting subjects to confess to crimes, sometimes to crimes which they never committed. Any subject should assume that the police are already convinced of his or her guilt; their questions will be designed, not to get to the truth, but to persuade the subject to confirm their suspicion.

Also, while the police are not permitted to use physical or mental force or coercion to secure a statement, the law often allows them to use deception or trickery (such as telling the suspect that his fingerprints were found at a crime scene, or that certain witnesses have identified him, when neither one is actually true). A suspect who tries to answer such statements or explain such items without a lawyer present does so at his or her own risk.

It’s not your job, or your loved one’s job, to deal with the police in this kind of situation. That is the job of a skilled, dedicated defense attorney. With over 29 years of experience in the criminal justice system, Tony Moss is more than prepared to take on the task. Just call him at 877-547-9407, or e-mail him at Tony@TonyMossLaw.com.

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