You’ve probably seen a TV show or movie where a criminal gets arrested and then the arresting officer starts quoting several phrases in an almost robotic or rehearsed-sounding tone. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you…” it usually starts out. While you may not think twice about it, this is actually an extremely important inclusion that’s a big part of the criminal justice system in the real world as well: your Miranda rights.
The term “Miranda rights” comes from the landmark Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, which was decided back in 1966. In this decision, the Supreme Court ruled that because a defendant wasn’t aware of his rights before being questioned, he gave his testimony without realizing that he had the option to avoid incriminating himself, and thus the evidence was not fairly collected.
Today, all people who are arrested and accused of a criminal offense must be read their Miranda rights before their testimony obtained from questioning can be submitted as evidence in their trial. On this blog, our Bergen County criminal defense lawyers will take a deeper dive into your Miranda rights and explain how they could impact your case.
“You Have the Right to Remain Silent.”
Perhaps the most straightforward and well-known of the Miranda rights, this means exactly what it says: when you’re being questioned by law enforcement authorities, you have the right to refuse to answer their questions. On that same note, your refusal to answer questions also cannot be considered an admission of guilt or wrongdoing. This is in accordance with the Fifth Amendment which protects you from self-incrimination.
“Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
This is law enforcement notifying you that from this point forward, anything you say in response to answering questions is considered admissible evidence in your trial. And that doesn’t necessarily mean everything you say will be used as well—more than likely the only thing that will be used is exactly what your prosecution needs to try and prove you’re guilty of the crime that you’ve been charged with.
“You have the right to consult with an attorney before speaking with the police.”
This is an important right that you should take full advantage of. In other words, you are allowed to refuse to submit to questioning before speaking with an attorney who will counsel and represent you, and you may even have them present with you throughout the questioning process. If you wish to have an attorney present, notify officers who arrested you and they will be required to make arrangements to allow you to contact one before questioning may begin.
“If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you at no cost if you wish.”
Public defenders have an admirable position of providing counsel to those who can’t afford an attorney so that everyone may have fair representation during their day in court. However, their representation doesn’t offer a lot of personal touches that a private attorney can. Personal attorneys have more control over their caseload and the type of cases they take, which means your case is far more likely to receive the attention it needs for the best chance at a successful outcome.
“If you decide to answer questions without an attorney present, you still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.”
This is pretty self-explanatory: should you choose to answer questions without consulting an attorney or having one present, you’ll be able to stop at any time and request having an attorney present. This is not an admission of guilt and you cannot face repercussions or consequences for doing so. However, answering questions without an attorney present is not advised and you absolutely shouldn’t do it for any reason—even if you’re completely innocent and have nothing to hide.
“If you understand the rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer questions without an attorney present?”
As this implies, this is your opportunity to ask questions about these rights and anything you may not understand. Understanding is not usually something many people struggle with, however you should not under any circumstances submit to questioning if you do not have an attorney present.