If you live in the United States, it’s important to know your rights – especially when you’re dealing with the police.
In the past, it wasn’t unusual for police officers to use coercive (or outright abusive) tactics on suspects in order to obtain confessions. While the police still find ways to manipulate suspects into saying more than they should, a 1966 Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona does obligate the authorities to inform people of certain rights under specific conditions.
These are the “Miranda” basics
Loosely called a “Miranda” warning, officers need only apprise you of your rights before a custodial interrogation takes place. To be in “custody” means that you are not free to leave, and an “interrogation” is questioning designed to elicit information about a crime or potential crime. That means that you may not be given your Miranda warning when you’re arrested.
In addition, while many people are familiar with these rights from movies and television shows, most people don’t realize that there is no official wording. In general, the police need only to inform you that:
- You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer any questions.
- If you choose to speak, anything you say can (and will) be used against you later in court.
- You have the right to attorney representation.
- If you can’t afford an attorney, you have the right to have one appointed by the court.
You are not obligated to wait until the police give you a Miranda warning to invoke your rights – and that’s exactly what you should do. Beyond answering questions about your identity or whatever is required when you’re booked into jail, it’s unwise to talk with the police at all unless you have experienced legal guidance by your side.