When Must Police Read Miranda Warnings?

Many clients have questions regarding their “Miranda Rights.” It is very common, during an initial interview, for the client to report that the arresting officer did not read the client his or her Miranda rights and then ask whether that affects the case. That leads to one of a lawyer’s least-loved responses: “It depends.”

It depends because the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Miranda v. Arizona applies only to custodial interrogation. With the prevalence of television crime dramas, non-lawyers can be excused for mistakenly believing that police are required to Mirandize an individual immediately upon making an arrest. In fact, as the Court clarified in a later case, Miranda merely “established a number of prophylactic rights designed to counteract the inherently compelling pressures of custodial interrogation.” In other words, because questioning while in police custody can be intimidating, officers must advise individuals of their rights in order to protect the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. So what is custodial interrogation?

  • What is custody? As with most criminal procedure issues, determining whether an individual is in police custody for Miranda purposes is fact specific, with no bright line rules. Courts look at a number of factors, including 1) how the individual came into police contact, 2) the nature of the surroundings (ie, police station versus someone’s front steps), 3) the number of officers present, 4) degree of physical restraint, 5) nature of the questioning and 6) whether the officers voiced their suspicion of the individual’s guilt. The courts have many times made clear that “no single factor is dispositive.”
  • What is interrogation? In most cases, whether an act is “interrogation” is obvious: if a police officer is questioning a suspect about an alleged crime, that constitutes interrogation 100 times out of 100. However, interrogation is broader than that. The United States Supreme Court defines “interrogation” as “any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.” For example, if an officer is driving a suspect to jail and makes a seemingly offhand comment, such as, “it would help you out if you cooperated”, that constitutes interrogation even if it technically is not a question.
  • What happens when law enforcement violates Miranda? The offending statements are inadmissible in court. It is important to realize that that is the only remedy- the case is not dismissed automatically. If the police violate Miranda, the Commonwealth may still introduce other, untainted, evidence at trial.

The criminal defense lawyers of Collins & Hyman, PLC provide legal services from offices in Williamsburg and Newport News.