I Wasn’t Read My Miranda Rights – Is That Legal?

Raleigh Miranda Rights LawyerWhat most people know about Miranda Rights are what they see on TV shows like Law & Order. Usually, the show depicts a person being arrested and the first thing that happens after the handcuffs are slapped on is they are read their Miranda Rights. Given that this is the extent of most people’s education about Miranda, we frequently get the call that someone’s rights were violated during the arrest process.

What Are Miranda Rights?

The Miranda warning is given by police to criminal suspects in police custody before they are interrogated to preserve the admissibility of their statements to be used in criminal proceedings. Essentially, if you are in custody or you have been detained and you are unable to leave, you must be Mirandized prior to being interrogated IF law enforcement intends to use those statements in a court setting.

Let’s dissect this a little further:

If you have not been detained or you have the ability to leave custody, the police are not required to Mirandize you.

If you are being detained and the police are questioning you but do not have any intention of using the information gathered in the interrogation in court, then they do not need to Mirandize you. However, if they decide at a later date that they want to admit those statements into evidence in court, that would be a Miranda violation.

Based on the above definitions, most encounters with law enforcement in North Carolina would not require a Miranda warning. Why? The most common criminal charges in North Carolina are DWI, misdemeanor drugs, and larceny. In most situations, people are either cited without ever being taken into custody or they are processed at a police station but are usually not questioned. In either of these circumstances, the requirement for Miranda is not met because an individual is not being interrogated while being detained without the ability to leave.

You can see how the Miranda rules could create confusion about when the warning is required and when it is not. For this reason, it is always advisable to not answer questions posed by law enforcement. Whether you have been Mirandized or not, you have the right to remain silent and you should always exercise that right. The less information law enforcement has, the better off you will be. Don’t be lured into the idea that if you cooperate and answer the police’s questions, you will be better off. You can be polite while at the same time declining to answer questions, which is what you should always do.

Miranda and the Nexus Between a Confession and a Coercive Interrogation

In Bobby v. Dixon:

Archie Dixon and Tim Hoffner murdered Chris Hammer in order to steal his car. Dixon and Hoffner beat Hammer, tied him up, and buried him alive, pushing the struggling Hammer down into his grave while they shoveled dirt on top of him. Dixon then used Hammer’s birth certificate and social security card to obtain a state identification card in Hammer’s name. After using that identification card to establish ownership of Hammer’s car, Dixon sold the vehicle for $2,800.

On November 4, Defendant Dixon went to the police station. A police detective Mirandized Dixon, at which point Dixon refused to speak without an attorney. The Defendant left the police station.

On November 9, suspicion focused even more on Dixon and he was arrested for forgery. He was not charged with murder, even though police did suspect him of the murder.

Police intentionally withheld Miranda warnings. They questioned him about the murder and the forgery. The defendant admitted to the forgery, but refused to confess to the murder.

Police tried to persuade Dixon over four hours to admit to the murder, telling him that they had his co-defendant in custody and whoever confessed first would get the better deal. Dixon refused to confess, and was arrested for the forgery and placed in custody.

He was taken to jail.

Four hours thereafter Dixon was returned to the police department, where he was re-interrogated. Dixon said that he had heard that that police had found the body, and asked whether his accomplice was in custody. Dixon said, I’ve spoken to my lawyer and I’d like to talk. Police provided him his Miranda warnings (on tape). Dixon confessed, which was later used at trial to convict him of murder.

He appealed, saying that the failure to read the Miranda Warnings early enough constituted a violation of his rights in Arizona v. Miranda.

The Supreme Court held that the confession was not coercive, and that there was not enough of a connection between the unwarned confession and the police suspicion and the requirement that Miranda Warnings be read.

Miranda v. Arizona – The History

Miranda v. Arizona concerned itself with the conviction of Ernest Arturo Miranda, petitioner and defendant, who had been convicted of two crimes – rape and kidnapping – sentences on each count of 20 to 30 years to run concurrently. In a separate case, the defendant had been convicted of the crime of robbery, committed as a separate act.

The issue before the United States Supreme Court was the admission into evidence of the defendant’s statements, over the objection of trial counsel.

In June of 1963, the trial court allowed the confession into evidence. In April 1965, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. The Supreme Court granted review. The defendant was a 22 year old hispanic who had been arrested in March 13, 1963, taken to a police station by Officers Young and Cooley, placed in a line-up, where he was identified by the victim in the rape case. He was then taken into an interview booth – Interrogation Room #2 – at approximately 11:30 AM that morning. By 1:30 pm the police had obtained a confession.

He denied his guilty at the commencement of the interrogation. By 1:30 he had confessed. At no point during his interrogation nor prior to his oral confession was Mr. Miranda advised of his right to counsel or his right to remain silent. At the conclusion of his interview, he was then asked to sign a confession. He agreed. He was handed a type-written form which said “I, Ernest A. Miranda do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will, with no threats, coercion, or promises of immunity and with full knowledge of my legal rights understanding any statement I make may be used against me.” This statement was also read to him by the officers. Mr. Miranda confessed in his own handwriting.

The issue was whether the confession had been voluntarily given, in light of the officers’ failure to give Miranda appropriate warnings. The Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that before the police conduct an in-custody interrogation, they must advise the defendant of his rights – “Miranda Warnings” – absent an exception. One exception is an exigent circumstances exception where the questioning is required to avert some immediate threat or harm to other people.

The Miranda case was decided in the context of a rich history of police abuse where purportedly voluntary confessions had been beaten or coerced out of defendants.

Miranda closely followed Escobedo v. Illinois, a 1964 Supreme Court case involved Danny Escobedo, a Chicago man accused of killing his brother-in-law. On the evening of January 19, 1960, the defendant’s brother-in-law was shot dead in a garage behind his home. This happened about midnight. The defendant, a 22-year-old young man, was arrested in early morning hours. He was taken to the police station for approximately 14 or 15 hours where he was questioned until his attorney – an attorney he had retained for a private lawsuit some 6 months earlier – showed up at the station with a Writ of Habeas Corpus and got Escobedo released.

On January 30, 1960, police again arrested Escobedo and urged him to confess. This time, he was taken by police to police headquarters as 12th and State. During the ride, police officers claimed they had evidence that linked Escobedo to the killing. At about 9:30 (an hour and a half later), Escobedo (and his girlfriend who had also been arrested) arrived at the police station.

Escobedo requested to see his attorney.

His attorney – who had probably been informed by friends or family members about Escobedo’s arrest – also arrived shortly after at the police station. He also requested to see his client, Escobedo. Police refused him access to his client, and refused Escobedo permission to consult with his attorney.

The attorney was not content with this refusal, and so he went to just outside the room where Escobedo was being questioned, where Escobedo overheard his attorney outside the room requesting to see him. Escobedo again asked to talk to his attorney, and was again denied permission.

The Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that the failure of the police to afford Escobedo an attorney therefore made his confession inadmissible in court.

Miranda Warnings for Kids

The Right to Remain Silent… this is the first in a series of four advisory statements a police officer must read to you if you are in custody and if the police officer wishes to interrogate you. These are call Miranda Warnings.

If police fail to read the Miranda Warnings before questioning an in-custody suspect, then a court may decide to suppress whatever statements the person may have made.

The central question in any determination of whether to suppress such statements is whether the person was “in custody”. What does “in custody” mean?

Chapel Hill police suspected a seventh-grade student of breaking into several houses. An police investigator went to the student’s school and had him removed from class and led to a conference room by a school resource officer (who was a police officer). The investigator questioned the juvenile in the presence of the SRO, the assistant principal, and an intern. The door of the conference room where the interview took place was closed but not locked. The juvenile was not given Miranda warnings or the “juvenile Miranda” warnings required prior to custodial interrogations by G.S. 7B-2101, and he made incriminating statements. He was allowed to leave and catch the bus home, but later was charged. He moved to suppress his statements based on the lack of Miranda and statutory warnings.

The North Carolina Supreme Court held that because there were non-police individuals – namely the administrator – present during the interrogation, it was not an in-custody interrogation. The North Carolina Supreme Court essentially held that courts do not need to look at the age of the person who has been questioned to determine whether the person believed he was in custody or not.

However, the Supreme Court held that “a child’s age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis,” so long as the child’s age is known to police or reasonably apparent. It noted that children are “more susceptible to influence . . . and outside pressures” than adults, making the Miranda warnings important in a broader range of settings. And it suggested that it required no more than common sense for officers and judges to take a suspect’s age into consideration when deciding whether a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would feel as though he or she were under arrest or the equivalent.

Your Rights when you meet with Police

You have certain rights when dealing with the police. It’s important for you to know and understand how to effectively take advantage of your rights. Two major rights are the right against unlawful search and seizure, and your Miranda Rights. This video explains your rights in a general way:

It’s important to understand that the police do not have to read you your Miranda Rights unless 1) you are in custody and 2) they want to ask you questions. If you are sitting in your home talking to a police officer, you are probably not in custody and therefore the police officer is not required to read you your Miranda Rights.

If you are in custody down at the police station, but the police officer doesn’t want to ask you questions, he does not need to read you your rights.

Miranda Rights, therefore, are limited protections. If you say something or sign something while not in custody, then Miranda does not apply. Similarly, if you are in custody and simply blurt out that you are guilty, then Miranda does not apply because your admission will be ruled a spontaneous utterance.

New Developments in Miranda law

Since 1966, the Supreme Court has had to reinterpret Miranda law. Miranda law first was developed in a 1966 case – Arizona v. Miranda – in which the Supreme Court ruled that when a suspect is interrogated in custody, the police must read him his rights. And if he invokes his rights, the police must respect his wishes and halt questioning until either he has an attorney present, or until he decides on his own to speak to police.

Because human beings are human beings, what seems like a simple rule in a law book, is often difficult to put into practice. That’s because sometimes people will invoke their rights – “I want a lawyer!” – but before the lawyer gets there, will start talking again. What do we do with their statements? Or sometimes people will not understand the rights because they have low IQ or don’t speak English. And so on.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has developed more specific rules to handle different aspects of Miranda. For instance, if someone says something out of the blue and not in response to police questioning, it is regarded as a “spontaneous utterance” and therefore is admissible in court.

The most recent question before the court in Berghuis v. Thompkins involved a suspect who was questioned for three hours by police in 2001 about a shooting that had occurred in 2000. That 2000 shooting had led to the death of a boy. Police were convinced they had the right suspect, a man named Thompkins.

Because he was being questioned in custody, they read him his rights: 1) the right to remain silent 2) anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law 3) the right to an attorney 4) if you can’t afford one, one will be appointed for you by a court.

Unfortunately for Mr. Thompkins, he never said whether he wanted to take advantage of these rights. Instead, he stayed mostly silent for three hours while police questioned him. He gave single word responses from time to time.

At the very end of the questioning, police asked him whether he believed in God and, if so, whether he wanted God to forgive him for what he had done to that boy. Mr. Thompkins said “Yes.” That one word counted as a confession, and was introduced against him at his trial.

He was convicted. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that by his silence. Mr. Thompkins had taken advantage of his Miranda Rights, and that the police questioning was not permissible. The Sixth Circuit ruled that the confession should be suppressed or barred from admission at court.

Today – June 1, 2010 – the Supreme Court ruled on the matter, and in doing so narrowed the scope of Miranda. The Supreme Court ruled that a suspect’s invocation of his rights must be clear and unambiguous. For instance, the suspect must say, “yes, I’d like an attorney” or “I’d like to remain quiet.” If a suspect does that, then police must stop questioning.

But if the suspect is not clear about his refusal to submit to questioning, then the suspect’s statements may later be used against him because they will not be barred by Miranda.



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