Understanding your Miranda rights

If you face criminal charges in Missouri, or even if you are “only” a person of interest in a criminal investigation, you would do well to remember that you are never legally obliged to voluntarily speak with law enforcement officers without having your attorney present. This is one of your constitutional rights which the U.S. Supreme Court elaborated on in the landmark 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona. Hence the Miranda warning.

You likely have heard various versions of the Miranda warning for years on TV and in the movies. The true Miranda warning consists of the following four statements

  1. You have the right to remain silent.
  2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
  3. You have the right to an attorney.
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

When it applies

Officers must give every suspect they arrest this warning. But that is the only time they must “read the suspect his or her rights.” They have no legal obligation to do so prior to the arrest. Nevertheless, your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and your Sixth Amendment right to an attorney, both of which precede and underlie the Miranda warning, apply to you at all times. You should therefore invoke these rights at all appropriate times.

In other words, you should never voluntarily answer officers’ questions. The only thing the law requires you to do is to produce your ID if and when they ask for it. You should always have your attorney right by your side before answering any additional questions.

Criminal investigations

It goes without saying that when officers believe that a crime occurred somewhere, they begin an immediate investigation to determine who committed it. That is their job. But this job means that they are not your friends while they search for their alleged perpetrator. If you happened to have been anywhere in the vicinity of the alleged crime scene, you, too, are one of the de facto suspects.

Officers do not call you a suspect, however, because they do not yet have probable cause to arrest you. Instead, they call you a person of interest. This relieves them of the necessity to advise you that you need not accede to their requests that you voluntarily come down to the station, tell them what you may have seen or heard, make a statement, etc. etc. etc.

Innocent people make innocent mistakes

When you know that you did nothing wrong, it is understandable that you might think that no harm could possibly come from your voluntarily helping the officers out in their investigation. Sadly, this is a very naive outlook that could get you in serious legal trouble. Even though officers do not have to give you your Miranda warning when you voluntarily speak with them, be aware that the officers, and later the prosecutor, can and will use anything against you that you voluntarily tell them.

This is why it is so critical that you never answer officers’ questions unless and until you have an attorney in the room with you. Only (s)he can protect your rights. The Founding Fathers and the Supreme Court Justices knew this long before you were born and consequently gave you and all other U.S. residents these rights for your and their own protection. Never waive them.