Miranda kicks in when the government subjects someone to “custodial interrogation.” This generally means that officers must read people their Miranda rights if they are in custody and the officers are asking them questions—or using other means to seek information—about a crime. (See Miranda: The Meaning of “Custodial Interrogation” and Do officers have to read the Miranda rights before talking to a suspect?)
Sometimes Miranda isn’t as straightforward as you’d think; it doesn’t apply to all in-custody statements. Some remarks are deemed spontaneous or voluntary. Courts typically hold that spontaneous statements are outside the scope of Miranda because they aren’t the product of any coercive influences.
Example: Gary is at his house, in handcuffs, under arrest for shooting his wife. The officers don’t give him a Miranda warning. A police detective and doctor arrive; the doctor examines Gary. During the examination, Gary says that he “didn't mean to do it,” that his wife was always nagging him, and that he planned to use the gun on himself as well. The court finds that his comments were “completely unsolicited expressions of remorse or attempts at explanation.” The voluntary statements can therefore come in at trial. (State v. Gosser, 236 A.2d 377 (N.J. 1967); also see see Does Miranda apply to on-the-scene questioning?)
Example: The police arrest Catherine and others for attempting to break into a liquor store. The officers don’t read the suspects their rights. Immediately after her arrest, Catherine tells the officers to let her colleagues go and that she “was the one breaking into the store.” Even though Catherine was in custody, Miranda doesn’t protect her statements because the police didn’t interrogate her. She instead made spontaneous statements in an effort to clear the others of wrongdoing. (Cameron v. State, 214 So 2d 370 (Fl. Dist. Ct. App. 1968).)
Example: A border patrol agent arrests Amy for illegally crossing the border into the United States. The agent informs her of her Miranda rights, and she invokes them. She later talks with the agent about football and her country of origin, and makes incriminating statements. The court holds that these statements are admissible against Amy because the agent didn’t interrogate her. The agent’s general questions weren’t personal, were unrelated to the crime, and weren’t designed to bring about an incriminating response. (U.S. v. Ayalew, 563 F.Supp.2d 409 (N.D. N.Y. 2008).) (For a related topic, see Police Questioning After the Suspect Claims Miranda.)
If you’re facing criminal charges, whether or not you might have made any incriminating statements, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. That kind of attorney can fully advise you of the law in your area and your options. If you’re unsure about where to find a lawyer, you can browse Nolo’s Lawyer Directory for one near you.