Law Day 2016 – Miranda Rights

At the heart of the foundation of our country is the belief that we are a nation of laws that are balanced to protect the rights of all citizens.   President Dwight Eisenhower established the first Law Day in 1958 to recognize our nation’s commitment to following the rule of law. In 1961, Congress passed a joint resolution declaring May 1st as the day for celebrating Law Day. Each year a theme is selected to study and celebrate. This year’s theme is a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court case – Miranda v. Arizona.

In Miranda, the defendant was arrested and taken to a police station and interrogated by police officers for two hours. Oral and written confessions by the defendant were introduced in the trial against him. The defendant was convicted and given a lengthy prison sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Miranda’s conviction and held that incriminating statements made by a person who is interrogated in police custody cannot be used against the person unless the prosecution shows that procedural safeguards were used to insure that the person knew of his rights not to incriminate him or herself.

Miranda is misunderstood by many people. There is a belief among many that if Miranda warnings are not read then the person gets a get out of jail card. Miranda prohibits the prosecution from using the incriminating statements in its case in chief in a trial against a defendant if the statements are obtained in violation of the requirements set forth in Miranda v. Arizona. However, the prosecution can opt to re-try the case without using the incriminating statements. In fact, the Miranda defendant was retried and was convicted without the use of the incriminating statements.

No exact statement is required for a warning of Miranda rights. Most jurisdictions have a version that is similar to the following: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in the court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

The last statement is generally followed by the law enforcement officer asking, “Knowing these rights, do you wish to speak to me?” Miranda rights can be waived. Use Caution when deciding to waiver your Miranda rights. The officer would prefer to speak with you without an attorney present because you are more likely to make an incriminating statement outside the presence of your attorney.

The best way to ensure that you do not waive important Constitutional rights is to invoke your right to an attorney prior to responding to questions while being interrogated in police custody.