gavel on a book

If you watch television or movies, you have probably heard characters on popular crime shows or courtroom dramas say something about “reading their rights” when an arrest occurs. It seems like every fictional cop knows their obligation under the law, so it may surprise you that law enforcement in real life is not always in total compliance when they make arrests.

In 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided the case Miranda v. Arizona. This case is important because it requires law enforcement to inform every individual they arrest of their rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Miranda Rights are now so commonly referenced in pop culture and media, few people consider whether they really know or truly understand them.

When Are Miranda Rights Required?

Specific circumstances require a reading of Miranda warnings:

  • The police are asking the questions;
  • The subject is in the custody of the police, and no longer free to leave on their own free will; and
  • The questions being asked are aimed at eliciting an incriminating response.

In other words, if the police are asking a simple question that reasonably would not implicate the person they are questioning in the commission of a crime, and/or the subject is free to leave at any time, Miranda warnings are not necessary.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

The Fifth Amendment protects people from being compelled to give testimony against themselves. The right extends to police interrogations immediately following an arrest, as well as during court when the prosecution can call a defendant to the stand.

Contrary to popular belief, the right to remain silent does not mean absolute silence. In fact, to invoke your Fifth Amendment right you should tell the arresting officer or the court that you intend to do so. Upon being arrested, you should clearly and explicitly let the arresting officer know that you are invoking your Miranda rights, that you do not want to speak to the officer, and that you want to speak to an attorney. In the courtroom, you can “plead the Fifth,” meaning that you will not answer a particular line of questioning.

While there is no exact language required, you should be clear about your intention not to participate in police questioning without speaking to an attorney first. If police continue to try and question you after you have asserted your wish to remain silent, they would be in violation of your Miranda rights, and any information they gather from you after that point cannot be used as evidence against you.

If You Do Say Anything, It Can Be Used Against You

Any information that you voluntarily provide to officers after being read your rights can be used in court against you. However, police officers are not permitted to psychologically coerce you or physically force you into providing information. A legal doctrine called “fruit of the poisonous tree” means, among other things, that any evidence that police gather as the result of a statement that was coerced or physically forced is inadmissible in court.

You Have the Right to a Lawyer

The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution requires that any individual who is subject to criminal prosecution that may impede their life or liberty be granted the assistance of legal counsel. The right to counsel extends through all significant phases of the criminal process, including:

  • The interrogation phase of the criminal investigation;
  • Trial;
  • Sentencing; and
  • Initial appeal of any conviction.

Proper counsel is invaluable for a defendant during the criminal process, providing services such as:

  • Ensuring the defendant’s rights are upheld during the initial police investigation as well as during court proceedings;
  • Advising and explaining proceedings to the client;
  • Negotiating a plea deal; and
  • Providing a thorough and effective defense for the client at trial by cross-examining government witnesses, objecting to improper questions or evidence, and presenting all viable and applicable legal defenses.

If You Cannot Afford a Lawyer, One Will Be Appointed

The second half of the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel pertains to the government’s provision of legal assistance for the indigent. If a defendant wishes to have a government-provided attorney, that request should be made at their arraignment, which is the first hearing after the arrest.

In order to receive a government-appointed lawyer, or public defender, a judge must verify that the defendant making the request is in fact indigent. That means the defendant meets the low-income criteria set forth by the state in which the proceedings are occurring. The judge’s verification usually requires the defendant to submit financial documents showing that they are unable to afford to hire a private lawyer.

Once the defendant’s indigent status has been verified, the court will either appoint a full-time public defender or, in certain cases, a private criminal defense lawyer. Unfortunately, because of the number of offenders who require these services, court-appointed lawyers often have far less time and resources to devote to each individual case than private attorneys do.

Defendants who must use a public defender may have the same lawyer throughout the process, or they may have different lawyers during different phases, with senior-level defenders often handling the more difficult aspects of a case.

If You Agree to an Interview, You Are Free to Stop It Anytime

The final portion of the Miranda warnings addresses when a defendant may invoke their rights. A defendant who is initially willing to answer an officer’s questions during interrogation without a lawyer present can still invoke their Miranda rights at any time. However, there is a risk in answering questions before an attorney is present, as anything said to police officers between when the Miranda warnings were read and the request for the attorney was made can be used as evidence against the defendant. Therefore it is much wiser to ask for an attorney immediately, and not later on.

Call Us Before Speaking to the Police

If you were arrested, speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The legal team at The Zeiger Firm are experienced in criminal defense, and we work hard to ensure our clients’ rights are protected. Contact The Zeiger Firm at (215) 546-0304 or online today to schedule a free consultation and learn if we may be able to help you.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.