Criminal Defense Lawyer Norfolk, VA and throughout Hampton Roads
Criminal Defense Lawyer Norfolk, VA and throughout Hampton Roads

What is a Miranda Warning, and Why Does it Matter?

A police officer places handcuffs on a suspect on the side of the road.

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It's one of the most familiar parts of criminal procedure in popular culture and general knowledge: the Miranda warning. "You have the right to remain silent" and "You have the right to an attorney" are sentences anyone who has ever watched a police procedural can rattle off from memory.

But, as with all legal rights, there is still plenty of confusion about what the Miranda warning actually means and how it applies to criminal cases. Remember, you have to know your rights in order to exercise them. Here's what you need to know.

What are the legal rights contained in the Miranda warning?

The Miranda warning is intended to strengthen your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in two ways. First, the police advise you that you have the right to remain silent in order to avoid inadvertently saying something that could incriminate you. Second, they advise you that you can request an attorney to consult prior to questioning and be present with you during questioning.

When do the police have to give the Miranda warning?

While the aforementioned police procedurals usually feature an officer giving the Miranda warning during an arrest, that's not always the case in practice. Rather, law enforcement must give you the Miranda warning before starting a "custodial interrogation." Custodial means you are in police custody; it doesn't necessarily mean you have been handcuffed or otherwise restrained. If the police have restricted your freedom in a significant way, then you are in custody for the purposes of the Miranda warning. Some of the factors the courts may consider in deciding whether you are "in custody" include:

  • Were you questioned by a law officer or someone else? Was that officer armed?
  • Were there multiple officers present? More than one officer may indicate you were "in custody."
  • Who initiated the interrogation?
  • Did the interrogation occur at the police station or somewhere else?
  • Were you physically restrained or subject to use of force?
  • Did the interrogation last a long time? Longer interrogations are more likely to be considered "custodial."
  • What time of day did the interrogation occur? Interrogations at odd hours may indicate you are in custody.

"Interrogation" simply means "questioning." If the police ask you direct questions in connection with a police investigation, that certainly counts as questioning. But the definition of "questioning" also includes behaviors and statements that the officer knows are likely to produce an incriminating response, even if they are not phrased in the form of a question.

What happens if the police don't give the Miranda warning?

If the police didn't give the Miranda warning prior to a custodial interrogation, then any evidence they discovered as a result of that interrogation may be suppressed, which means it cannot be used against you in court. Depending on the circumstances, this could significantly weaken the case against you, or even lead to your charges being dropped.

However, this only applies if there was a "custodial interrogation." The prosecution may dispute whether you were truly "in custody" or just voluntarily answering questions. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to protect your rights in this situation.

How a criminal defense lawyer can help

In short, whether and when you were given the Miranda warning can be an important piece in your case, but it's just one piece. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can put the pieces together and explain your legal rights and options. That's where we come in. If you are facing charges anywhere in the Hampton Roads region, give us a call or contact us online today.

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