Many people charged with crimes wonder whether their case will automatically be dismissed because the police officer did not read them their Miranda rights. While Miranda warnings are extremely important, an officer's failure to read them in and of itself does not result in a dismissal of criminal charges. Simply put, Miranda warnings themselves are not constitutional rights; rather, they are safeguards against the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. What does this mean?
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." This means the individual has the right to remain silent while being questioned in custody and is not required to give statements to law enforcement or testify in a criminal proceeding. Miranda warnings ensure the individual is aware of this constitutional right.
Miranda rights or Miranda warnings get their name from the 1966 United States Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. In that case, the Supreme Court Court held the United States Constitution's Fifth Amendment prohibition against self-incrimination applies to an individual who is in police custody. In order to safeguard that right, the Court ruled that before questioning suspects in custody, law enforcement officials must inform suspects of the following rights:
- They have the right to remain silent;
- Their statements may be used against them at a trial;
- They have the right to have an attorney present during any questioning by law enforcement;
- And if they cannot afford and attorney, one would be appointed for them.
Most importantly, the court held unless the suspect is warned of his or her Fifth Amendment rights, any statements made by the suspect in custody in response to police questioning cannot be used against the individual at a trial.
It is clear what Miranda warnings are. But when must an individual be read his or her Miranda rights? Miranda rights must be given only when a suspect is both, in custody and subject to interrogation.
It is important to know that custody is not limited to being in a police car or at the police station. For purposes of Miranda, "custody" is when an individual is deprived of his or her "freedom of action in any significant way." Whether an individual is in custody depends on all of the circumstances and is measured by an objective standard. In other words, it is not based upon whether the individual felt as though he or she was deprived of his or her freedom of movement-rather, it depends upon whether a reasonable person in the individual's shoes at the time would not feel free to end the encounter with the police officer and leave. If a reasonable person in those circumstances would not feel free to leave, then he or she is in custody.
Unfortunately, detainments during routine traffic stops are typically not custodial, meaning if you are pulled over by a police officer and he begins to question you, although you may not feel free to leave, you are typically not considered to be in custody. Therefore, when pulled over and questioned by a police officer, Miranda warnings are not usually required. For instance, if you are pulled over and the officer suspects you are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and you admit you have had a lot to drink, that statement can be used against you. This is because, as stated above, you are not considered to be in custody at this point; therefore, Miranda warnings are not required, and anything you can say can be used against you.
Second, Miranda protection only applies to individuals in custody who are interrogated. The Court defined "interrogation" as "express questioning or its functional equivalent." The court explained that the function equivalent of direct questioning is law enforcement's words or actions, which law enforcement should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response. To help make this clear, assume a person is sitting in handcuffs at the police station and has not been read his Miranda warnings. The person is in custody for purposes of Miranda because he is in handcuffs. The person blurts out "I shot the clerk!" The statement can be used against the defendant because he was not being interrogated when he made the admission. Miranda only applies when a person is in custody and being interrogated.