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Understanding your Miranda rights

If you enjoy watching “cop shows” on your Ohio TV channels, you probably have heard some version of the Miranda warning hundreds of times. It is what law enforcement officers do when they read suspects their rights when taking them into custody. What you may not realize, however, is that these rights likewise apply to you whenever officers arrest you as a suspect in an alleged crime.

The Miranda warning came from the 1966 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. However the fictional TV and movie officers phrase it, this warning consists of four parts as follows:

  1. You have the right to remain silent.
  2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
  3. You have the right to an attorney.
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

Applicability

You may think that officers must give you this warning any time they question you about anything, but such is not the case. The Miranda warning applies only once officers arrest you. They need not advise you of your rights if and when they question you prior to your arrest. Nevertheless, you have those rights. However, you must assert them yourself any time officers question you before they arrest you.

Constitutional rights

The Miranda warning stems from two of your constitutional rights: your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and your Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. What this means is that you can – and should – have an attorney present any time you talk to law enforcement officers, whether or not you are under arrest. Remember, the “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law” provision applies to information you voluntarily provide to officers. Consequently, your best strategy is never to volunteer information to them.

Person of interest

Innocent people naturally assume that they cannot get into trouble by talking to law enforcement officers and answering any questions they may have. After all, they know they did not do anything wrong. This is a very naive assumption that you should never make. When officers investigate a possible crime and you are “only” a person of interest who may have been in the vicinity at the time the crime occurred and may have seen what happened, they are not your friends. They are looking for a suspect and the fact that you were at the scene of the alleged crime makes you vulnerable.

Officers routinely attempt to question persons of interest and/or ask them to come down to the station to give a statement. Never under any circumstances should you answer their questions or make a statement unless and until your attorney is right there with you. (S)he is your constitutionally guaranteed protection against you innocently telling officers something that they can twist into your confession or another admission against your interests.

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