Miranda Rights

The Miranda rights is a set of instructions that are required to be given to a person taken into custody on suspicion of having committed a criminal act, before he can be questioned by police. The purpose of the Miranda rights is to ensure such individuals are made aware of their right to not make any statement that incriminates themselves, as well as their right to have an attorney. To explore this concept, consider the following Miranda rights definition. 

Definition of Miranda Rights


  1. A right to silence warning that must be administered to a suspect before questioning by law enforcement.


1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda vs. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

What are Miranda Rights

When an individual is arrested or questioned about a crime of which he is suspected, he must be told, in an understandable manner, that he has the right to refuse to answer questions, and that he has a right to have a lawyer present when he is questioned. This includes advising him that the court will appoint a lawyer, free of charge, to assist him if he cannot afford to hire one. The purpose of this advisory message is to protect the individual’s Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself.

The requirement to make such a statement to any suspect taken into police custody originates with the U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda vs. Arizona. The exact wording of Miranda rights may vary by jurisdiction, but the language means the same thing. If a person confesses to a crime, after not having been read his Miranda rights, his confession is likely to be disallowed in court.

Example of Miranda Rights in Use

Police arrest Mark for burglary. After he is taken into custody, the officers start interrogating him about the crime, without reading him his Miranda rights. Mark describes certain elements of the crime, which basically amounts to a confession. At trial, Mark’s attorney proves to the court that Mark had not been read his rights before being interrogated, so the judge rules his confession inadmissible. Without other very credible evidence, Mark may be acquitted of the crime.

History of Miranda Rights

On March 13, 1963, Phoenix Police arrested Ernesto Miranda after evidence linked him to the kidnapping and rape of a girl 10 days before. Miranda was interrogated for two hours, after which he signed a confession which read:

“I do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will, with no threats, coercion, or promises of immunity, and with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.”

This man had only a ninth-grade education, and a history of mental instability. The interrogation was conducted with no attorney present, and no one to interpret the legalese of the statement he signed. Nobody told Miranda that he had a right to an attorney, that he had a right to remain silent, or that anything he said during questioning could be used against him at trial.

At Miranda’s trial, prosecutors relied wholly on his confession. Although his attorney objected, arguing that Miranda’s involuntary confession should be excluded from evidence, it was allowed. The jury convicted Miranda of rape and kidnapping, sentencing him to 20 to 30 years in prison.

The defense team filed an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court based on the fact that Miranda’s confession was not voluntary and should have been excluded from the criminal proceedings. The court affirmed the lower court’s decision, stating that Miranda did not request an attorney. Miranda’s attorneys then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the police interrogation was coercive, and that the confession could not be used as evidence at trial. The reasoning behind this was because the police had not informed Miranda that he had a right to an attorney, or that he had a right to not make statements that would incriminate himself, thus violating Miranda’s constitutional rights. Miranda’s conviction was overturned, and a new trial ordered. In the new trial, instead of using the confession, the prosecution called witnesses. Miranda was convicted once again, and sentenced to prison.

Modern Day Miranda Rights

The Supreme Court ruling in Miranda created precedent law requiring detainees to be advised of their constitutional rights, but it did not specify the wording that must be used to do so. The Court’s ruling stated:

“…The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he/she has the right to remain silent, and that anything the person says will be used against that person in court; the person must be clearly informed that he/she has the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and that, if he/she is indigent, an attorney will be provided at no cost to represent him/her.”

The term “custody” has been defined as being put under formal arrest, or being deprived of freedom in a manner commonly associated with being under arrest. The term “interrogation” has been defined as the explicit questioning of a person in a manner that is reasonably likely to provoke an incriminating statement.

Because of the widespread ramifications of the Miranda ruling, police and other law enforcement agencies across the country instituted a policy of advising every suspect taken into custody, or questioned as a criminal suspect, of their rights. This mandatory notice is commonly referred to as the “Miranda rights.”

List of Miranda Rights

While each jurisdiction has its own Miranda rights language, there are certain elements that must be included in order for the warning to be valid. The list of Miranda rights must clearly advise the suspect of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights regarding self incrimination and representation by an attorney. The elements required in a list of Miranda rights include:

  • You have the right to remain silent;
  • Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law;
  • You have the right to an attorney and have him present during the interrogation;
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to you free of charge;
  • You can waive your right to be silent before or during an interrogation, and if you do so, the interrogation must be halted;
  • You can invoke your right to have an attorney present, and until he is present, the interrogation must be halted.

Miranda Rights Law

According to Miranda rights law, a suspect must be read his rights if police want to ask him any questions and use the answers as evidence at a criminal trial. This is true regardless of where the interrogation takes place. If the police want to ask a suspect questions at the scene of the crime, even if that is on a busy street, they must advise him of his Miranda rights.

Miranda rights laws do not, however, apply if the person is not in police custody. Most defense attorneys advise their clients to not speak during questioning until the attorney is present. Failing to read a suspect his Miranda rights can result in any statements or confession made to be considered inadmissible in court.

Understandable Miranda Rights

Miranda rights law also specifies that the rights must be understood by the suspect. This is why each right is spoken in plain language, and it means that the Miranda warning must be read in a language clearly understood by the suspect, and it may be necessary to refrain from questioning an intoxicated suspect until he sobers up. Many law enforcement agencies have a policy of asking suspects if they understand the rights just read to them, and recording the suspect’s answer.

Waiving Miranda Rights

When a suspect is interrogated, he has the option of invoking his Miranda rights to not answer any questions, and/or to have an attorney present. He also has the choice of waiving Miranda rights. When this occurs, the suspect is waiving his right to remain silent, and/or his right to have an attorney present. Waiving Miranda rights is not an option, however, until the suspect has been informed of those rights, and fully understands them.

Some jurisdictions allow an implied waiving of Miranda rights, which means that a suspect’s behavior indicates he wants to waive those rights, even if he has not explicitly stated this.

For example:

Juan is arrested for burglary, at which point he is read his Miranda rights. Immediately after being read his rights, Jarrod makes statements that are self-incriminating, without an attorney present. In this example of Miranda rights, Juan’s actions imply a waiver, as he first understood his rights, then immediately chose to speak.

Example of Miranda Rights Case

In January 2000, Van Chest Thompkins was taken into custody as a suspect in a fatal shooting that occurred in Southfield, Michigan. The police read him his Miranda rights and police then interrogated him. Thompkins never told police that he wanted to use his constitutional rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning.

Police engaged in a three-hour interrogation, during which Thompkins told them nothing, making only occasional remarks not pertaining to the case. After the lengthy questioning proved unsuccessful, the officers changed tactics, questioning his religious beliefs. When they asked if Thompkins believed in God, whether he prayed to God, and whether he prayed to God for forgiveness for shooting the victim. Thompkins answered “yes” to each question.

At trial, when the prosecution used this as a confession to the crime, Thompkins’ attorney asked the judge to not allow the these statements, claiming that Thompkins had invoked his right to remain silent, and that he had never waived that right. The judge denied the request, and Thompkins was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Thompkins’ attorneys appealed the verdict on the grounds that police couldn’t simply assume he “implied” waiver of a suspect’s Miranda rights. They argued that Thompkins had never said he waived those rights after remaining silent through three hours, of interrogation, and that his statements should not have been allowed, but the appellate court sided with the trial court. Thompkins’ case was then appealed to the U.S. District Court, which reversed the trial court’s decision, ruling that it could not rely on an implied waiver.

The state appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that, “[a]lthough the right of silence, in contrast to the right to counsel, can be exercised passively (by not speaking), a suspect’s initial reticence does not inherently convey to a reasonable police officer that the suspect wishes to exercise a right to silence and terminate the interview.” It further argued that a suspect who refuses to speak initially may simply be deciding how to describe the events, or he may be willing to talk on some topics but not others.

The Court agreed, ruling that, unless the suspect stated that he was invoking his rights, any statements made could be used in court, and the police could continue with questioning. The act of remaining silent was not enough to imply the suspect has invoked his right to remain silent permanently. The Court concluded that:

“In sum, a suspect who has received and understood the Miranda warnings, and has not invoked his Miranda rights, waives the right to remain silent by making an uncoerced statement to the police. Thompkins did not invoke his right to remain silent and stop the questioning. Understanding his rights in full, he waived his right to remain silent by making a voluntary statement to the police.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Amendment – The modification, correction, addition to, or deletion from, a legal document.
  • Criminal Proceeding – A legal process to prosecute an individual charged with the commission of a crime.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Fifth Amendment – Protects people from being tried for the same crime twice, and states that nobody can be compelled to testify against themselves.
  • Inadmissible – Not allowed or tolerated.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Sixth Amendment – Guarantees people the right to a speedy public trial, by an impartial jury, and to be represented to a lawyer.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.

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