- You have the right to remain silent when questioned.
- Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.
- If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
- Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
|Not Miranda, but Lorre looking like he needs some "coaxing."|
Every writer of crime fiction runs into the Miranda Warning sooner or later. How many TV episodes have ended with, "You have the right to remain silent..."? There's just no getting away from those famous words arising from a 1966 Supreme Court decision regarding the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of one Mr. Miranda. It was decided that his admissions during police questioning leading to his conviction for rape and kidnapping were inadmissible, as he did not fully understand his right against self-incrimination, or the right to have an attorney present during questioning. Out of that decision arose the warning that all U.S. police must give prior to custodial interrogation of a suspect.
A lot of young officers come out of the academy wringing their hands and mumbling the Miranda Warning over and over in their anxiety. It's a mantra they don't feel comfortable going a day without saying for fear of running afoul of someone's civil rights.
Citizen: "Officer, can you help me find Fluffy, my cat? I'm so afraid something's happened to her."
Police Officer: "Of course, ma'am, I'd be happy to, but did you know that you have the right to remain...."
Not everybody needs to be delivered their Miranda rights. It's okay for the police to talk with citizens, and even interview them without the Miranda litany occurring on every occasion. It's a fairly simple formula that results in the mandatory warning: Interrogation + custody=Miranda. And therein lies that grey area the police find themselves in so often. What exactly is "interrogation" and "custody"? Are interviews the same as interrogation? If a person is in the police building, is he/she in custody? We damn sure know what the Warning is, but the application can get fuzzy. Maybe it's best just to sing it out from time to time in case someone's thinking of confessing.
Police interviews can be described (by me, at least) as the questioning of potential witnesses, complainants, victims, and even those temporarily detained at the scene of a crime or accident. The object of such interviews is to determine exactly what has occurred and who may be involved or have witnessed the incident. I know what you're thinking--if someone's been detained, don't you have to Mirandize them? The short answer is no. Not always and not if the officer is yet to determine that a crime, in fact, has been committed, and that the person he is speaking with is a suspect. Once a person becomes an active suspect the relationship changes; especially if he has been detained. The officer would be wise to read him his Miranda Warning at that point, if he's going to continue questioning him. Now it's now longer an interview, with the overarching goal of determining the circumstances and players, but an effort to determine the amount of involvement by the suspect. In other words, he has become the object of the questioning, and that's interrogation.
But what if this happy individual is a suspect, and you the police officer are interrogating him, but he's not in custody? Example: You're sitting across from him in his own living room firing questions, while he answers them with a patient, but weary, air. Does he get the Miranda or no? Again, the short answer is no. Even though he's being interrogated, he's not in custody. He's in his own home, no cuffs or restraints are involved, and you don't have half a dozen uniformed officers surrounding him (hopefully). That being said, it would probably be wise to do so, because if he does make any admissions, his attorney is going to do his very best to have them thrown out. The absence of a Miranda Warning will form the centerpiece of this effort, and he will cite his client's trusting nature and ignorance of his right to have an attorney present as reasons to do so. Attorneys have argued in the past that the mere presence of a police officer creates a custodial environment. My own children would have agreed; fortunately the courts haven't yet gone that far, but you can see how skittish these things can make the police.
Even the suspect that voluntarily comes into the police department in order to be questioned is not necessarily considered to be in "custody." So long as he understands that he is free to leave the situation doesn't rise to the level of "custodial interrogation." But the officer has to be very careful here.
Do suspects voluntarily confess? Yes, yes they do. And it even happens without the torture techniques for which the police are so well known. There's several reasons for this in my experience. One is that they just can't contain their guilt. I know that seems a very antiquated notion these days, guilt, but there are some poor souls genuinely afflicted with conscience. Fortunately for defense attorneys their number seems to be decreasing.
Another reason is to cut a deal. I would say that this is the most common reason--self interest and preservation. They're the practical ones--they know their butt (or some other appendage) is in a wringer and they want to cut their losses. These kind of arrangements require the blessings of the prosecutor, as the police are not generally allowed these powers without him/her granting them. The defendant's attorney is, no doubt, going to be part of these negotiations.
Inadvertent. This category actually falls more into the "admission" category than the genuine confession. Suspect is much smarter than the police and enjoys letting them know it. This usually ends with the suspect stopping in mid-sentence with an expression of growing horror on his face as it dawns on him what he has just let slip. Sorry, after the Miranda Warning, there's no take-backs.
In closing, it's worth mentioning the Miranda Waiver. Most states issue the police cards with both the Miranda Warning and a Waiver printed on them. If the suspect wishes to cooperate, the waiver is signed, along with a block acknowledging that they have been read their rights and understand them. Here in New Jersey we also have a requirement to videotape interrogations that occur within the police department. As nearly everyone is convinced that confession=torture/coercion, the reason for this is obvious.
Now, is there anything you want to confess? I'm all ears.