Thanks to TV police dramas, most Americans have heard the Miranda Rights spoken aloud more times than they can count.
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 those rights in mind, do you wish to speak with me?
Yet, despite how familiar we are with the Miranda Rights, many people do not appreciate their meaning and significance. And that is a problem because those four statements and two questions contain some of the most critical information a person who has been taken into custody by the police needs to hear, understand, and act on.
Where Miranda Rights Come From
The Miranda Rights explain three fundamental rights—the right to remain silent, to have an attorney present during questioning, and to have the attorney provided at no cost if you cannot afford one. Those rights come from the United States Constitution, specifically the Fifth Amendment, which says you cannot be compelled to be a witness against yourself and are entitled to due process of law.
In 1966, in a case called Miranda vs. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the police must tell any person they take into custody about those rights before questioning them. The Court reasoned that a person arrested or “otherwise deprived of freedom in any significant way” faces “inherently compelling pressures” that could weaken their will to resist and make them think they had no choice but to answer police questions. In the Court’s view, reading someone their Miranda Rights before questioning them can help ensure they did not feel forced to speak against their own interests.
What the Miranda Rights Mean
Hearing the Miranda Rights in person means the police have taken you into custody because they suspect you committed a crime. It is a clear warning that your rights, freedom, and future are now at risk. If you are not arrested or detained by police, Miranda warnings are not required. You should take every word of it very, very seriously. Here is what it is telling you, sentence by sentence.
“You Have the Right to Remain Silent.”
The first line of the Miranda Rights means just what it says. You do not have to say anything to the police while in custody. It is your absolute right not to speak a word. No one—not a police officer, not a prosecutor, not even your own lawyer—can force you to say anything to the police (or anyone else) in that situation.
“Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You in a Court of Law.”
The next line in the Miranda Rights drives home the point of the first by explaining what happens if you talk while you are in police custody and suspected of a crime. The government is allowed to use, and almost certainly will use, whatever you say against you in court. By speaking, you give police and prosecutors evidence they can use to convict you of a crime and get you punished.
“You Have the Right to an Attorney.”
The third statement in the Miranda Rights also means just what it says. When the police take you into custody on suspicion of a crime, you are entitled to have a lawyer with you during every moment of questioning. But as discussed below, you must ask for one—it is the only thing you should say to the police.
“If You Cannot Afford an Attorney, One Will Be Provided for You.”
The final statement in the Miranda Rights explains that you can get a lawyer free of charge if you cannot afford to pay for one. Your lawyer in that situation would be a public defender paid for by the courts. If you can afford a lawyer, hire a talented criminal defense attorney who can give your case the individualized attention and effort it deserves.
“Do You Understand the Rights I Have Just Read to You?”
As the question suggests, the police want to make sure you understand your rights. That is because they want you to waive them, which you can only do if you understand what they mean.
“With Those Rights in Mind, Do You Wish to Speak With Me?”
This is the police asking you to waive your right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning. For the reasons explained below, you should never agree to this.
What to Do if the Police Read You Your Miranda Rights
If the police read you your Miranda Rights, here is what to do:
- Ask for a lawyer
- Say nothing else to anyone
If the police keep talking to you, repeat your request for a lawyer and then stay silent. If the police try to pressure you, bully you, or tell you that you are only making things worse for yourself by not talking, repeat your request for a lawyer and then stay silent. Do not say another word to anyone until you are talking to your lawyer.
Why are these the only steps you should take? Because once the police have read you your Miranda rights, there is nothing you can say to anyone, other than a lawyer, to get yourself out of trouble. If you do not have a lawyer present, nothing—absolutely nothing—that comes out of your mouth while in police custody can be helpful to you. It can only do you harm. Countless individuals have learned this lesson the hard way. Do not be one of them.
Contact a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., Today
The Miranda Rights serve a critically important purpose. They inform you about your rights and warn you about the consequences of waiving them. When the police read the Miranda Rights to you, it is a warning that your life, livelihood, and liberty are at risk. Your only response should be to ask for a lawyer and then to stay silent.
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., is a team of lawyers with years of experience representing individuals facing criminal charges in Montgomery County and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. If you have had the Miranda Rights read to you, tell the police you want a lawyer, say nothing else, and contact us online or by phone at (215) 822-7575 immediately.