Questioning Suspects in Custody: The Miranda Rule

Police must advise you of your 'Miranda rights' before initiating in-custody questioning.

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When police officers make an arrest, they commonly interrogate (question) the arrestee. Usually they are trying to strengthen the prosecution’s case by getting the arrestee to provide evidence of guilt. An interrogation may have other purposes as well, such as developing leads to additional suspects.

(For information on ending an interrogation, see Miranda Rights: Cutting Off Police Questioning.)

Your Constitutional Rights

By voluntarily answering police questions after arrest, a suspect gives up two rights granted by the U.S. Constitution:

  • the right to remain silent, and
  • the right to have a lawyer present during the questioning.

Although people are entitled to voluntarily give up these and other rights, the courts have long recognized that voluntariness depends on knowledge and free will, and that people questioned by the police while they are in custody frequently have neither.

Your Miranda Rights

To remedy this situation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Miranda v. Arizona (1966) that information obtained by police officers through the questioning of a suspect in police custody may be admitted as evidence at trial only if the questioning was preceded by certain cautions known collectively as a “Miranda warning.” Accordingly, police officers usually begin their questioning of a person in custody by first making the following statements:

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • If you do say anything, what you say can be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during any questioning.
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire.
  • If you choose to talk to the police officer, you have the right to stop the interview at any time.

If a suspect is in police custody, it doesn’t matter whether the interrogation takes place in a jail or at the scene of a crime, on a busy downtown street, or in the middle of an open field. Other than routine automobile stops and brief on-the-street detentions, once a police officer deprives a suspect of freedom of action in any way, the suspect is in police custody and Miranda is activated.

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