Understanding your Miranda rights

| Nov 6, 2018 | Firm News |

If an Arizona law enforcement officer ever attempts to question you about a criminal matter, it may surprise you to learn that you need not voluntarily speak with him or her. Why? Because the law requires only that you provide identification to an officer when asked to do so. Once you do that, you need do nothing further or answer any additional questions.

You likely have heard the Miranda warning many times over the years on TV and in the movies. It consists of the following four parts

  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.

The U.S. Supreme Court mandated this warning in the historic 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona. Your rights from which it flows, however, go back to the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments to the U.S. Constitution as follows:

  • Fourth Amendment – gives you the right to remain free of unreasonable searches and seizures by governmental officials
  • Fifth Amendment – gives you the right against self-incrimination
  • Sixth Amendment – gives you the right to have an attorney present any time law enforcement officers question you

Miranda applicability

Officers must give you the Miranda warning, i.e., “read you your rights,” when they arrest you. Prior to doing so, you still have these rights, but officers need not tell you about them. It therefore is your right and responsibility to refuse to answer law enforcement questions voluntarily. While it is never in your best interests to “mouth off” at a police officer, you can simply decline to answer his or her questions unless or until you have an attorney with you. Once you ask for an attorney, the officers must stop questioning you until one arrives.

Voluntary information

Unfortunately, innocent people make the naive assumption that since they did not do anything illegal, it cannot possibly hurt to talk to law enforcement officers voluntarily. If you make this erroneous assumption, you could find yourself in a great deal of trouble. Remember, when officers question you about a criminal matter, they are not your friends. They are conducting an investigation to determine if a crime occurred, and if so, to develop probable cause for an arrest – possibly of you.

Consequently, voluntarily talking with officers without your attorney present is a highly risky proposition at best. Remember the “anything you say can and will be used against you” part of the Miranda warning. You could say something seemingly innocuous while voluntarily talking with officers that could result in your arrest. Do not take that chance. Never speak with law enforcement officers unless and until you have your attorney right by your side.