Miranda Warnings, Violations, and the Case That Paved the Way

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Did police fail to read you your rights? Union County lawyers discuss Miranda requirements and what you can do if you have been charged with a crime and not mirandized.

Everyone has certain constitutional rights – even, and perhaps especially, when they are arrested. For example, every U.S. citizen has the right not to incriminate themselves, whether it’s by remaining silent after being arrested or by not testifying as the defendant in a criminal trial. When police make an arrest or detain a suspect, it is generally understood that they will provide the person being arrested or detained with a Miranda Warning, but this is not always the case. The same goes when police interrogate a suspect in a criminal case. But what exactly is a Miranda Warning? When do police have to read someone their rights in a criminal case? And what happens when there is a violation of a person’s Miranda rights? To learn more about Miranda Warnings, violations, and the case that paved the way, keep reading.

What are Miranda Warnings?

The term “Miranda Warning” refers to a warning that is given by police to criminal suspects in custody. The warning must be given before police can begin questioning the suspect about his or her alleged criminal activity. There are multiple components to the warning:

  • That the defendant has the right to remain silent and not respond to questions by police.
  • That the defendant has the right to stop answering questions from police at any point.
  • That the defendant has the right to speak to an attorney and/or have an attorney present while being questioned by police.
  • That the defendant has the right to a court-appointed public defender if they cannot afford to hire an attorney.
  • That anything the defendant says to police can be used against them by the prosecution in a court of law.

The Scope of Miranda Rights

Generally, the law requires law enforcement to inform a suspect that they have the right to remain silent, as well as the right to speak to an attorney, and that any statements they make to police could be used against them in a criminal case. This right stems from the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. The idea behind the Miranda Warning is that a person should be made aware of their rights prior to making any decisions about whether to essentially “waive” them and talk to the police.

The Case that Paved the Way: Miranda v. Arizona

The origin of the term “Miranda Warning” is Miranda v. Arizona, a case that was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1966. In that case, Ernesto Miranda was arrested and then taken to police headquarters, where police officers questioned him about his suspected involvement in a kidnapping and sexual assault. Police interrogated Miranda for approximately two hours, and he eventually supplied them with a written confession. At trial, Miranda’s defense attorney objected to the introduction of the confession as evidence because at no point either before or during the interrogation did police advise Miranda of his constitutional right to have an attorney present. In essence, the defendant was deprived of the critical information and entitlements that he had under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Miranda was convicted by a jury, and the case was eventually appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that Miranda had the right to speak to an attorney after being arrested, and that he should have been informed of all of his rights before the police interrogation began. This case decided the fundamental question of whether a defendant should be protected against incriminating themselves while they are being questioned, as opposed to solely in the isolated case of being in a court of law.

When are Police Required to Read me my Rights in New Jersey?

Police are specifically required to read a suspect their Miranda rights during what is known as a “custodial interrogation.” In other words, the suspect must be in police custody (arrested), which is a pretty clear bright line for when a Miranda Warning is needed. Where things could get murky is when a person is pulled over by police while driving and questioned prior to being arrested, or when law enforcement knocks on a suspect’s door and begins to ask them questions about a criminal matter. Since any responses in these instances would not be occurring while the suspect was technically in police custody, they could be considered voluntary statements that did not require a Miranda Warning. The guiding principle here is whether the suspect believed they were free to leave during the police questioning. Courts will often consider certain factors when making a determination about whether Miranda rights should have been read, including the location where the questioning occurred, how long the questioning lasted, and how much pressure was applied by police during the questioning.

What if a Person Waives their Miranda Rights?

Of course, a person does have the right to waive their Miranda rights and speak to police outside the presence of an attorney. But there are limitations on exactly when a person may waive their right to remain silent. There are three conditions that must exist for a person’s waiver of their Miranda rights to be valid:

  • The waiver must be made knowingly. This means that the suspect must be informed of their Miranda rights before they can actually waive those rights.
  • The waiver must be made intelligently. This means that the suspect must have an understanding of what their Miranda rights entail. Courts will typically look at the totality of circumstances surrounding the waiver to determine whether the suspect had a complete awareness of their right to remain silent, including their age, education, and intelligence.
  • The waiver must be voluntary. Police cannot unreasonably pressure or otherwise force the suspect to waive their Miranda rights.

Violations of Miranda Rights in NJ

Overall, a Miranda violation occurs when police fail to inform a suspect of the existence of their right to remain silent and their right to have an attorney present during questioning. More specifically, it could also be considered a violation of a suspect’s Miranda rights when police fail to tell the suspect that their attorney has arrived at police headquarters. Similarly, it may also constitute a Miranda violation when police don’t let a suspect know that an arrest warrant has already been issued against them because the suspect needs to understand that they are not free to leave the questioning.

Violations of Miranda rights are a very big deal because these rights are protected under both federal law and New Jersey law. In fact, a Miranda violation could be extremely important for your criminal case and your defense because a failure by police to properly read you your Miranda rights during the arrest could result in the criminal charges against you being dismissed.

How an Attorney can Help if Police Failed to Inform You of Your Rights in a Criminal Case

Depending on the circumstances, it might be possible for a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to challenge the arrest and/or questioning by police in your case because law enforcement neglected to provide a proper Miranda warning. If the judge decides that police violated your Miranda rights, then any statements you made to authorities could be deemed inadmissible as evidence against you at trial. Beyond that, any physical evidence that police discovered as a result of your statements would also be inadmissible as evidence. For instance, if you told police about the location of an illegal firearm and they subsequently found the gun in your home or vehicle, it’s possible that prosecutors would ultimately have to drop their weapons charges against you because of the illegal search. This is because of the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, which holds that any evidence obtained from an illegal search or unlawful questioning is contaminated (or “poisoned”) and therefore cannot be used against a defendant in court.

Before a suspect’s confession and/or statements can be ruled inadmissible as evidence, the court must first find that the suspect’s Miranda rights were, in fact, violated. This is done at a Miranda Hearing, which is a pre-trial proceeding during which the judge will look at the circumstances of the interrogation and determine (1) whether the suspect knew and understood that they had a right to remain silent and to speak with an attorney, and (2) whether the suspect’s subsequent waiver of those rights was valid.

Police Failed to Read You Your Rights? Contact us

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime and you believe your rights were violated in the course of the investigation, contact our talented Union County criminal defense lawyers to discuss what happened and whether this may be your best option for successfully challenging the charges. We defend clients against all types of criminal cases and DWI charges in towns such as Cranford, Union Township, Elizabeth, Scotch Plains, Roselle Park, and Rahway. Contact us for a free legal consultation at (908) 838-0150 today.

William Proetta

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.