One of my Criminal Justice students recently asked for more detail about Miranda Rights after I pointed out that she stated some incorrect “common knowledge” about being read your rights in a recent essay. This took place in an online Introduction to Criminal Justice course, and the topic was whether the innocent “suspects” in the film My Cousin Vinny were read their rights after arrest. Kind of a trick question that most new CJ students get wrong. The “reading of the rights” occurs off-screen but is referred to later on, so it happens but most everybody misses it. The topic is covered in the textbook correctly, but she needed a more plain-English version of how Miranda rights really work. Law enforcement officers get this in the Police Academy, but it is not one of the topics covered in detail in early Criminal Justice classes. Here is what I told her:
Miranda Rights and the 5th Amendment:
Basically, it is a right to not talk to the police unless you do so willingly, and not under threat of any kind. It is NOT NECESSARY for police to warn you of this right unless questioning takes place in a custodial setting. This sounds vague and it is. There is a lot of case law about what is custodial and what is not. If a cop asks you questions on the street or at the station and you are otherwise free to leave (you have not been placed under arrest), notification of Miranda is not required. You can be asked what happened and if you say you did it, that is an admissable confession.
So, just being at the police station is not custodial unless you are not free to leave. Officers will tell or show you where the restroom is, ask or provide you with water or coffee, ask if you are able to stay and talk a few minutes, maybe even specifically tell you that you are not under arrest and are free to leave any time. They just won’t say that you don’t have to talk to them if you don’t want. Same on the street, as long as you aren’t blocked in, handcuffed, placed in a cruiser.
Now change the setting and the custody question gets touchy. On the street or station or even home if there are 3 or 4 officers kind of surrounding you, would you feel free to leave? If you are placed in the backseat of a cruiser, do you feel free to leave even if told you are? If you could be perceived to be in custody they must read Miranda or your statement could be inadmissible.
Let’s say you are under arrest. Now they still don’t need to read Miranda unless they are going to question you. That’s the most common misconception. People think the whole case will be dismissed if they aren’t read their rights immediately upon arrest, like on Law & Order. A kind of curtain falls if they do, so new cops are trained to never read Miranda to someone they arrest for detectives. The detective wants you to be talked into waiving your rights after they are read and making a voluntary statement, and they get very good at it. See, you can waive that right to remain silent. It’s almost never a good idea for you. But, in the interest of justice, if you commit a crime own up to it. Take responsibility for your actions.
That’s a little bit about Miranda. There is so much more. It is a basic topic in the Police Academy but experienced cops can go to week-long schools about it to learn all those nuances about what constitutes custody . Lawyers take entire classes in law school about such things. Some of my colleagues might criticize me for giving up a secret, but it’s not. The facts are laid out clearly in the Introduction to Criminal Justice text, and many, many places on the Web. Besides, budding criminals just steal computers or commit crimes with them, they don’t parse thousands of web pages for stuff like this. Besides, I already said if you do the crime, fess up. Remaining silent is for wusses.
Here at Florida Tech Online we even have a class in Criminal Investigations, and another in the Law of Criminal Procedure where this and other constitutional law topics get discussed in detail. This isn’t the Police Academy, but an associate or bachelors degree in Criminal Justice teaches you some fundamentals that will make the Academy easier if you want to go that route.
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