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When Do The Cops Have to Read My Rights?

Here is the legalese: for any individual's statements that are made during a custodial interrogation to be admissible at trial, the individual must first be made aware of his or her Miranda rights and then knowingly waive them. One would naturally think that this sentence is not particularly complex, but it has spawned decades of cases stemming from various circumstances.

First, Miranda rights are only required if law enforcement officers desire to admit an individual's statements at trial. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). So does this mean that an officer does not ever have to read an individual their rights? Yes, absolutely. An officer can interrogate an individual, conduct an entire investigation, and subsequently arrest someone without ever telling them that they have the right to remain silent. However, the law is clear that statements made during any custodial interrogation are inadmissible at trial.

Second, the individual must be subject to a "custodial interrogation." While cases have evolved throughout the years providing guidance concerning when an individual is being "interrogated," the biggest area of focus is when an individual is officially "in custody." Generally, this has been interpreted to mean that an individual's liberty, or freedom to leave the situation with the officer, has been curtailed.

Third, an individual must then be informed of their rights and waive them. Popular television has made Miranda rights common knowledge for most, if not, all people. However, the law requires that a rights advisement must cover certain basics: (1) the individual has the right to an attorney (or a court appointed attorney if he cannot afford one), (2) the individual has the right to not answer questions asked of him, (3) these rights remain with the individual and can be exercised at any time during the interrogation, and (4) any statements that the individual makes can be used against him.

Defects in any of the above respects can be fatal in law enforcement's attempt to use these statements against an individual. However, the failure of law enforcement to advise an individual of their rights (or to do so incorrectly) is not necessarily fatal to their possible criminal case against the individual.

If you have been subject to an interrogation by law enforcement or are subject to a criminal case where law enforcement has spoken with you, make sure that you contact the attorneys of Keffer Barnhart LLP at 1-800-NOT GUILTY or (317) 857-0160.

[Future posts will address the ways in which law enforcement get around their obligations to advise individuals of their Miranda rights, the common mistakes people make after they have been advised of their rights (i.e., not immediately asking for an attorney), and the differences between rights (invoking the right to remain silent is not the same as asking for a lawyer).]