The Miranda warnings require that, for suspects’ statements during custodial interrogation to be admissible in court, officers first advise them of the following:
- they have the right to remain silent
- their statements may be held against them in court
- they have the right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed.
Officers need not convey the Miranda warnings precisely or use any magic words. Rather, if they communicate the essence of Miranda’s requirements, the defendant’s statements will probably be admissible in subsequent legal proceedings. (But on the one hand, sometimes officers don’t need to provide the Miranda warnings at all, such as when there is a qualifying emergency; on the other, state law may occasionally make statements that would have been admitted under the federal Constitution inadmissible.)
Example: Officers arrest Wallace on suspicion of weapon possession after they’ve chased him down and he’s thrown an object into the bushes. The officers look in the bushes and find a small handgun. Before questioning him, they read him their standard Miranda form, which provides that he has “the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions,” but not that he has the right to have a lawyer present during questioning. His subsequent confession that the handgun is his is inadmissible in court because the warnings suggested that he could consult with a lawyer only before speaking with the police, not while doing so. (Florida v. Powell, 559 U.S. 50 (2010).)
Example: Officers arrest Wallace, but this time they give him a different advisement of Miranda rights. They tell him that he has the right to a lawyer’s presence during the interrogation and the right to an appointed lawyer. They also tell him that the attorney would be appointed “if and when [he goes] to court.” Combined together, the warnings are sufficient—Wallace’s admission can come into evidence at trial. (Duckworth v. Eagan, 492 U.S. 195 (1989).)