History of the Miranda Warning
You have likely heard of Miranda Rights, or the Miranda warning, or perhaps you’ve heard of someone being “Mirandized.” Miranda Rights are more than half a century old, the result of a Supreme Court ruling in what would turn out to be a breakthrough case. “Miranda,” refers to Ernesto Miranda who found himself under arrest in 1963 in the city of Phoenix. Miranda confessed to kidnapping and rape following his arrest.
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Later, when Ernesto’s lawyers learned he had not been informed that he could contact an attorney, or that he did not have to answer questions, they sought to overturn his conviction. Even though Ernesto had effectively confessed after acknowledging his understanding of his legal rights, it became clear that he did not fully understand those rights.
As a result, Miranda’s conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court—Miranda v. Arizona. The ruling that overturned Ernesto Miranda’s conviction also established guidelines regarding the specific manner in which suspects must be informed of their constitutional rights. The Miranda decision was 5-4, with Chief Justice Earl Warren famously saying, “it is not admissible to do a great right by doing a little wrong…It is not sufficient to do justice by obtaining a proper result by irregular or improper means.”
In other words, even if the police believe they are taking a dangerous criminal off the streets, they must still afford each and every suspect the rights given to all of us under the Constitution. When those rights are ignored, justice can never truly be accomplished. The Miranda case established that any person in police custody must be told of his or her rights prior to interrogation.
These rights include the right to avoid self-incrimination by refusing to answer questions, the right to have an attorney by your side while you are being questioned, and the right to have an attorney even if you cannot afford one on your own. If you choose not to remain silent, anything you say to law enforcement can be used against you to obtain a conviction.
Elements of two Amendments to the Constitution are included in Miranda Rights. The Fifth Amendment—which protects against self-incrimination—as well as elements of the Sixth Amendment—which covers the right to have an attorney present—are integral parts of Miranda Rights. While the essence of the Miranda warning is the same across the nation, each state determines how its officers will issue Miranda Rights. What many people do not entirely understand is that the police do not have to Mirandize you before you have actually been arrested, and anything you say during that time can and will be used against you.
What your Miranda Rights mean on a practical level is that even if you waive your Miranda rights after you are arrested, you can stop answering questions at any time during the questioning and request an attorney. Following a time when intimidation and coercion were accepted police tactics during the questioning of suspects, the Miranda Warning was a welcome change.
Miranda Warning in Pennsylvania
If you were arrested in the state of Pennsylvania—or any state—the police probably read you your rights as you were being arrested. Law enforcement is not required to read you your rights at the time of your arrest but must do so prior to questioning you. If your rights were not read to you before you are questioned, then any incriminating evidence you provide will likely be suppressed. While the exact working of the Miranda warning was not clearly spelled out by the Supreme Court, most states have roughly the same wording that provides suspects the right to remain silent, to avoid self-incrimination, to have an attorney present, and to be appointed an attorney if they cannot afford one.
If you state that you want an attorney at any time during questioning, the police must immediately stop asking you questions until your attorney arrives. You then have the right to speak privately with your attorney and to have him or her present during further interrogation. You always have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer any question beyond providing your name and ID. It is important to note that in the case of a suspected impaired driver, the police are not required to Mirandize you during your traffic stop or prior to the time you perform a field sobriety test because you have not yet been arrested. It is also important to know that law enforcement is trained to obtain as much information as possible before they arrest you and Mirandize you, so always be very careful about what you say to a police officer.
How Do You Know for Sure You are Being Arrested?
While it may seem like it should be obvious that you either are under arrest or are not, sometimes it is not that simple. Suppose you are in a park, enjoying the day with friends when a police officer approaches you, orders you to stop, and begins asking you questions. Are you free to walk away? Are you being arrested or simply detained? Generally speaking, if a reasonable person in the exact same situation would not feel free to walk away, then there has either been detention or an arrest. The difficulty comes in determining which it is.
Law enforcement may have a reasonable suspicion to detain you but may not have probable cause (a higher standard) to arrest you. Yet while questioning you while you are detained, the officer may garner additional information and evidence that does give him or her probable cause for an arrest. In this scenario, the burden would fall on your attorney to persuade the court that you were actually under arrest—an arrest that had no probable cause until you provided the necessary incriminating evidence.
If your “detainment” is brief and cursory, then you are not under arrest. A detainment must be no longer than is absolutely necessary, and the “investigation” by the officer must be made in the least intrusive means available. If the police officer prolongs the detention beyond what a reasonable person would consider as “brief and cursory,” then the “detention,” may end in a “de facto” arrest—an actual, but not yet official arrest.
Sometimes an arrest is obvious—the police tell you they are arresting you, place you in handcuffs, and take you into custody. Other times, the lines are much fuzzier. Some courts decide whether a person was under arrest by determining whether a reasonable person would have felt free to leave following a brief questioning by the police. When making this determination, courts will consider:
- What level of force was used by law enforcement
- Whether there was an actual need for this level of force
- How many officers were involved
- Whether there was a reasonable suspicion you were armed
- The way in which you were physically handled by the police
- The length of the stop
The use of handcuffs does not automatically signal you are being arrested if you are behaving in a disorderly, rowdy manner that could potentially harm others, or when the police need to take precautions against a potential escape. Officers can handcuff a suspect and even place the suspect in the back of the police car while they search a house the suspect came from. These actions are not considered an arrest if the police only want to ensure the suspect does not escape until they have all the facts.
As far as Miranda Rights go, the point at which you are actually under arrest is a very important distinction. If you are not under arrest, then the police are simply detaining you up until the point that a reasonable person, facing the same circumstances, would feel they could not leave. It is important that you take your Miranda Rights very seriously. It is human nature to want to explain to a police officer, under the assumption that you will be allowed to go home once you make that explanation.
The police officer may even tell you that once you answer his or her questions you can go home. Remember, police officers are allowed to lie to suspects in the interest of obtaining a confession or evidence to use against you. The more you talk and attempt to explain, the more likely you are to make a mistake.
Your statements can be taken out of context, and used against you during your trial, to incriminate you and ultimately find you guilty of a criminal offense. Whether you are being detained or arrested, it is usually not in your best interests to answer any questions. Remain silent, and once arrested, ask for an attorney—then wait until your attorney arrives before you say anything else. It is of the utmost importance that a criminal defense attorney who is well-versed in Pennsylvania criminal laws be by your side throughout your interrogation to ensure you do not say anything that can later be used against you.
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