Miranda Warnings: When Are They Required

We have all heard the famous Miranda Warnings, whether in an episode of Cops, movies or even songs. However, contrary to media portrayal, the warnings are required only at a certain juncture, not every time a police officer speaks to a person. The Miranda Warnings stem from a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona. In that case, the Supreme Court held that in order for an individual’s statements made to law enforcement to be used as evidence against that person in court, the statements must comply with the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against self-incrimination. The Court realized the inherently coercive atmosphere of custodial interrogation and, in order to counter it, required that the person subject to questioning must be apprised of certain rights.

These rights, although seemingly simple, are only required when certain circumstances exist. The key phrase used by the Supreme Court is “custodial interrogation.” Only when an individual is subject to custodial interrogation are Miranda Warnings required. Custodial Interrogation has been defined and examined throughout the times since Miranda v. Arizona. Over time, the courts have defined custody as “a formal arrest or something akin.” Interrogation has been defined as “express questioning or its functional equivalent.” Thus, because Miranda, was decided the way it was to counteract the inherently coercive atmosphere of custodial interrogation, Miranda Warnings are only required when speaking to “police blue.” What this means is that if an individual is speaking to a civilian confidential informant casually, those statements made by the individual can be used against him or her in court. Law enforcement often employs this tactic when attempting to gain information from an individual who does not yet have an attorney. Additionally, the warnings are only required when there is some express questioning, or when a question or action is likely to elicit an incriminating response.

The Fifth Amendment and Miranda Warnings have evolved greatly since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision. This article is a very brief discussion of when the warnings are required. As one is to expect, there are many other issues to address when a person is under police investigation. For example, other evidence seized (such as guns or drugs) as a result of a person’s statements, even if made in violation of Miranda, can still be used against that person in court. Other Miranda issues will be addressed in later articles, but the complex and long history of Miranda and law enforcement questioning is a prime example of why individuals who are under police investigation would be served best by speaking to an experienced attorney.

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James A. Payonk, Jr.

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