Miranda Rights: Your Rights of Silence

Why the Police Have to 'Read Him His Rights'

A man being taken into custody by a police officer
Aspen Colorado Police Officer Takes a Suspect into Custody. Chris Hondros / Getty Images

A cop points at you and says, "Read him his rights." From TV, you know this is not good. You know that you have been taken into police custody and are about to be informed of your "Miranda Rights" prior to being questioned. Fine, but what are these rights, and what did "Miranda" do to get them for you?

How We Got Our Miranda Rights

On March 13, 1963, $8.00 in cash was stolen from a Phoenix, Arizona bank worker. Police suspected and arrested Ernesto Miranda for committing the theft.

During two-hours of questioning, Mr. Miranda, who was never offered a lawyer, confessed not only to the $8.00 theft, but also to kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old woman 11 days earlier.

Based largely on his confession, Miranda was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in jail.

Then the Courts Stepped In

Miranda's attorneys appealed. First unsuccessfully to the Arizona Supreme Court, and next to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 13, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court, in deciding the case of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), reversed the Arizona Court's decision, granted Miranda a new trial at which his confession could not be admitted as evidence, and established the "Miranda" rights of persons accused of crimes. Keep reading, because the story of Ernesto Miranda has a most ironic ending.

Two earlier cases involving police activity and the rights of individuals clearly influenced the Supreme Court in the Miranda decision:

Mapp v. Ohio (1961): Looking for someone else, Cleveland, Ohio Police entered Dollie Mapp's home. Police did not find their suspect, but arrested Ms. Mapp for possessing obscene literature. Without a warrant to search for the literature, Ms. Mapp's conviction was thrown out.

Escobedo v. Illinois (1964): After confessing to a murder during questioning, Danny Escobedo changed his mind and informed police that he wanted to talk to a lawyer. When police documents were produced showing that officers had been trained to ignore the rights of suspects during questioning, the Supreme Court ruled that Escobedo's confession could not be used as evidence.

The exact wording of the "Miranda Rights" statement is not specified in the Supreme Court's historic decision. Instead, law enforcement agencies have created a basic set of simple statements that can be read to accused persons prior to any questioning.

Here are paraphrased examples of the basic "Miranda Rights" statements, along with related excerpts from the Supreme Court's decision.

1. You have the right to remain silent

The Court: "At the outset, if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent."

2. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law

The Court: "The warning of the right to remain silent must be accompanied by the explanation that anything said can and will be used against the individual in court."

3. You have the right to have an attorney present now and during any future questioning

The Court: "...the right to have counsel present at the interrogation is indispensable to the protection of the Fifth Amendment privilege under the system we delineate today. ... [Accordingly] we hold that an individual held for interrogation must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation under the system for protecting the privilege we delineate today."

4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you free of charge if you wish

The Court: "In order fully to apprise a person interrogated of the extent of his rights under this system then, it is necessary to warn him not only that he has the right to consult with an attorney, but also that if he is indigent a lawyer will be appointed to represent him. Without this additional warning, the admonition of the right to consult with counsel would often be understood as meaning only that he can consult with a lawyer if he has one or has the funds to obtain one.

The Court continues by declaring what the police must do if the person being interrogated indicates that he or she does want a lawyer...

"If the individual states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present. At that time, the individual must have an opportunity to confer with the attorney and to have him present during any subsequent questioning. If the individual cannot obtain an attorney and he indicates that he wants one before speaking to police, they must respect his decision to remain silent."

But -- You can be arrested without being read your Miranda Rights

The Miranda rights do not protect you from being arrested, only from incriminating yourself during questioning. All police need to legally arrest a person is "probable cause" -- an adequate reason based on facts and events to believe the person has committed a crime.

Police are required to "Read him his (Miranda) rights," only before interrogating a suspect. While failure to do so may cause any subsequent statements to be thrown out of court, the arrest may still be legal and valid.

Also without reading the Miranda rights, police are allowed to ask routine questions like name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number necessary to establishing a person's identity. Police can also administer alcohol and drug tests without warning, but persons being tested may refuse to answer questions during the tests.

Miranda Exemptions for Undercover Police

In some cases, police officers operating undercover are not required to observe suspects’ Miranda rights. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Illinois v. Perkins, ruled 8-1 that undercover officers do not have to give suspects a Miranda warning before asking questions that may cause them to incriminate themselves. The case involved an undercover agent posing as a prison inmate who carried on a 35-minute “conversation” with another inmate (Perkins) who was suspected of committing a murder that was still actively being investigated. During the conversation, Perkins implicated himself in the murder.

Based on his conversation with the undercover officer, Perkins was charged with murder. The trial court ruled that Perkins’ statements were not admissible as evidence against him because he had not been given his Miranda warnings. The Appellate Court of Illinois agreed with the trial court, finding that Miranda prohibits all undercover police officers from speaking with incarcerated suspects who are “reasonably likely” to make incriminating statements.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the appeals court despite the government’s admission that Perkins had been interrogated by a government agent. “In such circumstances,” wrote the Supreme Court, “Miranda does not forbid mere strategic deception by taking advantage of a suspect's misplaced trust.”

Supreme Court Shields Police from Miranda Lawsuits

On June 23, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that suspects who aren’t issued their Miranda rights before being questioned cannot sue police officers for monetary damages under federal civil rights law “even if the evidence was ultimately used against them in their criminal trial.”

In their 6-3 decision in Vega v. Tekoh, justices ruled in favor of a sheriff’s deputy who was sued after he failed to read a Miranda warning to a Los Angeles hospital worker who had been accused of sexually assaulting a patient.

The issue in the case was whether the warning given to criminal suspects before they talk to authorities, which the court recognized in its Miranda v. Arizona decision in 1966 and reaffirmed 34 years later, is a constitutional right or something less important and less clearly defined.

The court's six conservatives were in the majority in the ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito, with its three liberal members dissenting.

In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Alito wrote that “a violation of Miranda is not itself a violation of the Fifth Amendment” and “we see no justification for expanding Miranda to confer a right to sue” under the federal law known as Section 1983. The law allows people to sue police officers and other government workers for civil rights violations.

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the majority opinion failed to give "redress" to individuals whose rights were violated by the police under Miranda. Citing the 2000 case of Dickerson v. United States, she wrote that Miranda has “all the substance of a constitutional rule" and that these "constitutional rules are enforceable in federal-court habeas proceedings, where a prisoner is entitled to claim he 'is in custody in violation of the Constitution.'" She contended that under Miranda if the accused had an "un-Mirandized" testimony, it should not be included in the trial and since that was not the case, gave the accused grounds to sue.

In 2014, police officer Vega investigated a claim by a Los Angeles hospital patient that Tekoh, an attendant at the facility, had touched her inappropriately while she was incapacitated on a hospital bed. Vega said Tekoh voluntarily offered a written confession even though he had not been arrested or taken into custody.

Tekoh disputed Vega's version of events and contended that he was interrogated by Vega, who coerced a false confession.

Tekoh was arrested and charged in state court with sexual assault. His incriminating statement to Verga was admitted as evidence during the trial, but a jury acquitted him. Tekoh then sued Vega in federal court, accusing the officer of violating his Fifth Amendment rights by extracting an incriminating statement without being read his Miranda warnings, leading it to being used as evidence against him in his criminal trial.

The jury reached a verdict in favor of Vega, but the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in 2021, ordered a new trial on the officer's liability.

The 9th Circuit found that using a statement taken without a Miranda warning against a defendant in a criminal trial violates the Fifth Amendment, giving rise to a claim for monetary damages against the officer who obtains the statement.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Vega's attorneys argued that the 9th Circuit's ruling threatened to "saddle police departments nationwide with extraordinary burdens in connection with lawful and appropriate investigative work,” adding that “virtually any police interaction with a criminal suspect” might lead to civil liability for police officers.

Appealing to the Supreme Court, Vega's attorneys said in a legal filing that the 9th Circuit's decision threatened to "saddle police departments nationwide with extraordinary burdens in connection with lawful and appropriate investigative work." Vega's lawyers added that "virtually any police interaction with a criminal suspect" might lead to liability for officers.

An Ironic Ending for Ernesto Miranda

Ernesto Miranda was given a second trial at which his confession was not presented. Based on the evidence, Miranda was again convicted of kidnapping and rape. He was paroled from prison in 1972 having served 11 years.

In 1976, Ernesto Miranda, age 34, was stabbed to death in a fight. Police arrested a suspect who, after choosing to exercise his Miranda rights of silence, was released.

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Longley, Robert. "Miranda Rights: Your Rights of Silence." ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2022, thoughtco.com/miranda-rights-your-rights-of-silence-3320117. Longley, Robert. (2022, September 1). Miranda Rights: Your Rights of Silence. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/miranda-rights-your-rights-of-silence-3320117 Longley, Robert. "Miranda Rights: Your Rights of Silence." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/miranda-rights-your-rights-of-silence-3320117 (accessed November 28, 2022).