Miranda rights and why the police don’t always read them

Miranda rights and why the police don’t always use them

Miranda rights are the rights given to criminal suspects in the U.S. upon arrest informing them of certain rights before asking them any questions. The wording that is commonly used in a Miranda warning is, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” The Miranda warning primarily serves to protect suspects from self-incrimination, but not being arrested. The Miranda warning is given by the police officer when the suspect is in custody and under interrogation. The reading of these rights is a safeguard because placing a person under custody is likely to undermine a person’s will to resist and may compel them to speak in a self-incriminating way.     

The 5th amendment of the   U.S. Constitution obligates law enforcement officers to advise criminal suspects of their Miranda rights before interrogation to ensure they know their rights.  Miranda rights originate from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Miranda V. Arizona in 1969, where the Supreme Court ruled that police officers must advise persons placed in their custody of their rights before interrogating them.  

The police are obligated to read Miranda rights to a suspect in any setting, whether in jail, at the crime scene, or any other place provided there is significant restraint of the suspect’s freedom. If a detainee indicates in any manner, at any time prior or during questioning, that he or she wishes to remain silent, an officer is bound not to proceed with the interrogation. If the suspect states that he or she wants an attorney, they won’t be interrogated until an attorney is present.  However, police can ask standard booking questions as name, address, age, social security number and other basic identification details.

In the event that a suspect’s Miranda rights have been violated, the prosecution cannot use for most purposes anything the suspect says as evidence against the suspect at trial. Any evidence obtained as a result of these statements is inadmissible in a court of law.  

However, the police may not read Miranda rights to a criminal suspect in certain circumstances:

Jailhouse informant exception

A suspect will not have Miranda rights read to them in undercover situations where the police are using an informant posing as a cellmate or an undercover officer to extract incriminating information from a suspect. Confessions obtained from informants or undercover agents do not violate Miranda provisions as there is no coercion or fear of the police as it may be the case in custodial interrogation.

Public safety exception

Police officers are not required by law to read Miranda rights to a suspect in circumstances whereby public safety is in question.  This exception includes circumstances involving terrorism and situations where a suspect is armed with deadly weapons and the officers are acting in proper response to a potential emergency. In such circumstances, anything the suspect says could be used by the prosecution against the suspect at trial.

The police do not have to read Miranda rights to persons in temporary detentions such as at traffic stops simply because the custody of the occupants is not established and does not involve significant restraint of the driver’s freedom. However, if the officer arrests the occupant of a vehicle at the traffic stop, the officer must read Miranda rights to him or her before any interrogation.

An officer can also lawfully interrogate a detainee without reading their Miranda rights when the suspect willfully agrees to speak with the police, and the conversation is being tapped.