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Understanding your Miranda rights

From the moment you encounter the police, your rights are at risk. This is not because a police officer is behaving unethically. Often the violation of someone’s rights occurs when police act hastily or are overwhelmed with circumstances related to a crime. This is why it is important that you know and understand your rights so that you can demand them if police overlook them.

One way in which police may unintentionally violate your rights is by neglecting to warn you of what may happen when they begin to question you. This warning is called your Miranda rights. The law requires police to inform you of your Miranda rights from the moment you are under arrest. If they fail to do this, the court may exclude anything that happens during questioning from the evidence against you.

What protections does Miranda offer me?

The name Miranda comes from a Supreme Court decision that established certain information police must clarify upon your arrest. Before they begin questioning you, officers must warn you of the following:

  • You do not have to answer any of their questions.
  • If you choose to answer police questions, whatever you say may become evidence against you if your case goes to court.
  • You have the right to speak with an attorney and to have an attorney with you while police interrogate you.
  • If you invoke your right to remain silent or request to have your attorney present, police must stop questioning you.
  • Depending on your financial circumstances, you may be eligible for the services of a public defender.
  • You must confirm to police that you understand your rights.

It is important that you realize police may question you even before they have arrested you or taken you into custody. The law does not require officers to inform you of your Miranda rights until they arrest you, so it is wise to remain silent to avoid incriminating yourself even if officers have not formally taken you into custody. Of course, if police ask for your identification, it is wise to comply.

If police recall you for a second questioning, the law may not require them to repeat your Miranda warnings even if it is weeks between your first and second interrogations. Again, it is always wise to keep quiet until you have consulted with a skilled criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can evaluate your case and remain alert for any actions by police or prosecutors that may violate your rights.