Statements Obtained When Police Violate Miranda: Can They Be Used Against You?

UnMirandized statements must generally be kept out of evidence -- but there are exceptions.

If a police officer questions a suspect who is in custody without giving the suspect the Miranda warnings, nothing the suspect says can be used against the suspect at trial. The purpose of this "exclusionary rule" is to deter the police from violating the Miranda rule, which the U.S. Supreme Court has said is required by the Constitution. (Dickerson v. U.S., U.S. Sup. Ct. 2000.)

(For more information on evidence that might be inadmissible after a Miranda violation, see our article on "fruit of the poisonus tree.")

In the years since the Miranda case was decided, several exceptions to the above rule have emerged from the courts. The exceptions assume that the only reason the statement is inadmissible is the Miranda violation and not other possible forms of police misconduct, such as physical coercion.

VARIATIONS ON A THEME

Though many critical rights come from the U.S. Constitution, states have their own constitutions and statutes. State law often provides protections that are similar, if not identical, to the those the federal Constitution gives. But occasionally state law offers expanded rights. Keep this potential expansion in mind when reading about general criminal law principles. It could be, for example, that evidence that would be admissible under the federal Constitution is inadmissible under state law.

For more on applicable law and your rights, see this note from our editors.  

Impeaching a Witness and at Sentencing

If a defendant gives testimony at trial that conflicts with a statement made to the police, the prosecutor can offer a statement elicited in violation of Miranda to impeach (attack) the defendant’s credibility. (Kansas v. Ventris, U.S. Sup. Ct. 2009.) Similarly, rules in many jurisdictions allow prosecutors to offer statements obtained in violation of Miranda against defendants in sentencing hearings. (U.S. v. Nichols, 4th Cir., 2006.) For example, assume that in an improperly obtained statement, a defendant admits to the police that he was armed with a weapon when he committed a crime. The defendant’s confession may not be admissible at trial to prove the defendant’s guilt, but the prosecutor may offer it into evidence during sentencing to try to obtain a harsher sentence.

Using UnMirandized Statements

Here are some other common exceptions to the Miranda rule:

  • Public safety. In dangerous situations, the “public safety” exception allows police officers to question suspects about weapons without giving a Miranda warning. If the interrogation leads the police to a weapon, it can be used against the suspect at trial. (N.Y. v. Quarles, U.S. Sup. Ct. 1984. See The Public Safety Exception to Miranda  for more detail.)
  • Tangible evidence. Dangerous situation or not, any tangible evidence (such as a threatening note or the loot from a robbery) that the police learn about through questioning that violates Miranda can generally be used against a suspect in court. (U.S. v. Patane, U.S. Sup. Ct. 2004. See If the Police Find Evidence Because of a Miranda Violation, Is the Evidence Inadmissible?)
  • Witness. If a statement taken in violation of Miranda leads the police to another witness, that witness can testify against a suspect at trial. (Michigan v. Tucker, U.S. Sup. Ct. 1974.)
  • “Inevitable discovery.” If the police would have eventually found tangible evidence on their own, the evidence can be used against a suspect at trial even if the police actually found out about it during questioning that violates Miranda.

These exceptions arguably give the police real incentive to violate the Miranda  rule. Suspects sometimes mistakenly think that what they say—or evidence found because of what they say—won't be admissible.

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