One of the most frequent things I am told by new clients is that they were not read their Miranda rights when they were arrested. Implicit in this statement is a question, "does the fact that I was not read the Miranda warnings mean anything for my case?" My answer, as is often the case with questions about the law, is that it depends.
What are Miranda Warnings
Miranda warnings exist to protect a suspect's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking with the police and to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you prior to any questioning if you so desire. If you decide to answer questions without an attorney, you have the right to stop answering at any time to allow you to consult an attorney.
Nearly everybody has heard these warnings on tv, in movies, or elsewhere in popular culture. The United States Supreme Court set out the requirement for such warnings in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The Supreme Court did not set out an exact script to be followed, but the warnings were designed to protect people suspected of criminal activity from coercive police interrogation. Ultimately, the Miranda warnings were developed to ensure that a person knowingly and intelligently waives the privilege against self-incrimination and the right to counsel prior to making any statements or confessing to criminal activity.
When do police have to give Miranda Warnings
The rights described in the Miranda warnings do not attach at the outset of all interactions with the police. Rather, a police officer must give Miranda warnings before engaging in custodial interrogation. While the definition of custodial interrogation is not exactly cut and dry, the Miranda court provided that a suspect is in custody upon formal arrest or under any other circumstances where the suspect is deprived of his or her freedom of action in any significant way.
The Iowa Supreme Court in State v. Ortiz, 766 N.W.2d 244 stated that, in order to determine whether a suspect is in custody, a court must "examine the extent of the restraints placed on the suspect during the interrogation in light of whether a reasonable man in the suspect's position would have understood his situation to be one of custody." They analyze the situation using an objective four factor test, looking at "(1) the language used to summon the individual, (2) the purpose, place, and manner of interrogation, (3) the extent to which the defendant is confronted with evidence of his guilty, and (4) whether the defendant is free to leave the place of questioning."
If a suspect is in custody, police officers are required to tell that person their Miranda rights before beginning their interrogation and that person must knowingly and intelligently waive those rights before questioning can begin. Of course, figuring out whether a person is in custody at the time of the interrogation is not always easy to do.
What happens if the police do not read me my Miranda Warnings
If the police subject a person to custodial interrogation without telling the person their Miranda rights or if the officer states the Miranda rights but the person does not knowingly and intelligently waive those rights, any statements made by that person are inadmissible as evidence against that person.
What I have written about Miranda warnings is only a very brief overview. The caselaw that has developed since Miranda was first decided in 1966 is extensive and complicated. A determination of whether the absence of Miranda warnings has an effect is made on a case-by-case basis and what is written above is probably not sufficient to determine whether or not the absence of those warnings is relevant based on any particular set of facts.