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Criminal Law FAQs


If I'm arrested, do the police have to "read me my rights?"


No. However, if they don't read you your rights, they can't use anything you say as evidence against you at trial.


What are these rights?


Popularly known as the Miranda warning (ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona), your rights consist of the familiar litany invoked by TV police immediately upon arresting a suspect:


You have the right to remain silent.

If you do say anything, what you say can be used against you in a court of law.

You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during any questioning.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire.

If you choose to talk to the police officer, you have the right to stop the interview at any time.

     (This part of the warning is usually omitted from the screenplay.)


It doesn't matter whether an interrogation occurs in a jail or at the scene of a crime, on a busy downtown street or in the middle of an open field: If you are in custody (deprived of your freedom of action in any significant way), the police must give a Miranda warning if they want to question you and use your answers as evidence at trial. If you are not in police custody, however, no Miranda warning is required. This exception most often comes up when the police stop someone on the street to question them about a recent crime and the person blurts out a confession before the police have an opportunity to deliver the warning.


Will a judge dismiss my case if I was questioned without a Miranda warning?


No. Many people mistakenly believe that a case will be thrown out of court if the police fail to give Miranda warnings to the arrested person. What Miranda actually says is that a warning is necessary if the police interrogate a suspect and want to use any of her responses as evidence. If the police fail to give you a Miranda warning, nothing you say in response to the questioning can be used as evidence to convict you. In addition, under the "fruit of the poisonous tree" rule, if the police find evidence as a result of an interrogation that violates the Miranda rule, that evidence is also inadmissible at trial. For example, if you tell the police where a weapon is hidden and it turns out that you gave this information in response to improper questioning, the police will not be able to use the weapon as evidence unless the police can prove that they would have found the weapon without your statements.


What's the best way to assert my right to remain silent if I am being questioned by the police?


If you're taken into custody by the police, you don't have to use any magic words to let police officers know that you want to remain silent. You can simply say nothing in response to police questions. Or, after an officer gives you a Miranda warning, you can stop the questioning by saying something like:


I want to talk to an attorney.
I won't say anything until I talk to an attorney.
I don't have anything to say.
I don't want to talk to you anymore.
I claim my Miranda rights.


If the police continue to question you after you have asserted your right to remain silent, they have violated Miranda. As a result, anything you say after that point -- and any evidence gleaned from that conversation-will not be admissible at your trial.


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