You’ve probably seen enough movies and television shows that you can recite the Miranda warning in your sleep. “You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney,” and so on. While we often think of this warning as our Miranda rights, it’s important to keep in mind that the warning doesn’t actually grant you these rights.
A reminder of your constitutional protections
It would be more appropriate to think of Miranda rights as a Miranda reminder. This is because the rights mentioned in the Miranda warning are already granted to you under the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment protects you from self-incrimination. In other words, the right to remain silent. The Sixth Amendment grants you the right to an attorney.
Why give a warning at all?
If you already have constitutionally-protected rights to begin with, why are you given a Miranda warning at all? In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miranda v. Arizona that people who are placed under arrest should be made aware of their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney. The purpose behind this ruling was to prevent people from being coerced or tricked into a confession.
It’s up to you to invoke your rights
Because the Miranda warning is only a warning, it’s your responsibility to invoke your rights. You will need to explicitly state that you intend to remain silent. You will also need to state that you want to have an attorney present.
You can invoke your rights at any time. You might choose to answer some initial questions posed by the police. If you believe you’re talking yourself into trouble, you can tell them you’re going to exercise your right to stay silent. Doing so should put an immediate end to all questioning.
If the police continue to question you after you’ve asserted your right to silence or after you’ve requested an attorney, any statements made from that point on may be inadmissible. In general, it’s good practice to invoke your rights as soon as you’re given a Miranda warning. At this point, a legal professional can help you protect your rights throughout the criminal justice process.