Attorney Allain Marain

Miranda Warnings: A Brief Discussion


Miranda warnings consist of the following:

You have the right to remain silent;

Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law;

You have the right to have an attorney present before and during the questioning; and

If you cannot afford the services of an attorney, you have the right to have one appointed, at public expense and without cost to you, to represent you before and during the questioning.

Many people believe that police are required to administer Miranda warnings whenever they place someone under arrest. That belief is incorrect. The obligation to administer Miranda warnings arises only when two conditions exist. The first condition is that the person be in a custodial setting. Note that “custodial setting” does not necessarily mean that the person is under arrest. It is sufficient that the person reasonably feel that he is not free to leave. The second condition is that the police want to interrogate that person. It is only when both conditions are present that police are required to administer Miranda warnings.

Unless police administer Miranda warnings when required to do so, subsequent answers to questions become inadmissible in the State's case-in-chief. That is the only “penalty” the State incurs in failing to administer Miranda warnings. In fact, the State is permitted to use at trial information obtained in violation of Miranda in order to rebut contradictory evidence adduced by the defendant. Even when Miranda warnings have not been issued, spontaneous statements by a person in police custody, when not the result of police questioning, are admissible.

The need to provide Miranda warnings arose by decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Law enforcement officials originally were highly critical of the decision. On balance, however, the decision has proved to have greatly benefited law enforcement. This benefit arises from the fact that, once Miranda warnings have been issued, judges are much more likely to rule that defendants' statements were made voluntarily, where the judges might have ruled otherwise absent those warnings. Nevertheless, subsequent decisions of the United States Supreme Court have defined numerous exceptions to the circumstances where Miranda warnings are required:

  • Police may ask standard booking questions such as name, address, date of birth, place of birth, and the like;
  • Police may question suspects when deemed necessary to address immediate possible danger to the community. Typical situations of that nature would be where a suspect is believed to have abandoned drugs or weapons where they may be found by passers by;
  • Police need not administer Miranda warnings to prison inmates. The Court announced this decision in Howes v. Fields, 132 S.Ct. 1181 (2012). We provide part of the rationale for this Alice-in-Wonderland decision in the Court's own words:
    • Questioning a person who is already serving a prison term does not generally involve the shock that very often accompanies arrest. In the paradigmatic Miranda situation--a person is arrested in his home or on the street and whisked to a police station for questioning--detention represents a sharp and ominous change, and the shock may give rise to coercive pressures. A person who is “cut off from his normal life and companions,” Shatzer, supra, at ----, 130 S.Ct., at 1220, and abruptly transported from the street into a “police-dominated atmosphere,” Miranda, 384 U.S., at 456, 86 S.Ct. 1602, may feel coerced into answering questions.

      By contrast, when a person who is already serving a term of imprisonment is questioned, there is usually no such change. “Interrogated suspects who have previously been convicted of crime live in prison.” Shatzer, 559 U.S., at ----, 130 S.Ct., at 1224. For a person serving a term of incarceration, we reasoned in Shatzer, the ordinary restrictions of prison life, while no doubt unpleasant, are expected and familiar and thus do not involve the same “inherently compelling pressures” that are often present when a suspect is yanked from familiar surroundings in the outside world and subjected to interrogation in a police station. Id., at ----, 130 S.Ct., at 1219.

Ultimate irony: Miranda v. Arizona reversed Ernesto Miranda's conviction for kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery because the police used his statement at trial without providing the warning that the Supreme Court deemed required. His case was returned to the trial court for further proceedings. Arizona retried Miranda. In that new trial, the State did not introduce his statement. The jury convicted Miranda, even without that statement. Miranda served his term of imprisonment and was released on parole. Following release, Miranda was stabbed to death in a barroom brawl. His alleged killer invoked his Miranda right to remain silent, and was never charged.

Needless to say, this page barely scratches the surface concerning the in's and out's of law relating to Miranda warnings.

Admissibility of statements taken from defendants involves intense analysis of the circumstances under which the statement was taken, and of the applicable law. Allan Marain and Norman Epting, Jr. are New Jersey criminal defense lawyers. For a combined total of over sixty-five years, they have been making those analyses on behalf of their clients. They are available to provide to New Jersey defendants the benefits of their experience.

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