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.”

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.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Longley, Robert. "Miranda Rights: Your Rights of Silence." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/miranda-rights-your-rights-of-silence-3320117. Longley, Robert. (2021, July 31). 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 August 14, 2022).