The Constitutional Safeguards Available When You’re Detained by Police
Because they understood the power of government officials and potential for abuses within the ranks of law enforcement, the founding fathers included specific language in the U.S. Constitution banning unlawful search and seizure and guaranteeing certain minimum rights to criminal detainees. Nonetheless, the rights of persons taken into custody have always been subject to compromise. To clarify some of the fundamental rights of the accused, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1966, in Miranda v. Arizona, that remains in effect today.
Warnings Required by the Miranda Ruling
In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was taken into custody in Phoenix, Arizona, and charged with kidnapping, rape, and robbery. After his arrest, he was interrogated for approximately two hours, during which time police alleged that he confessed to committing the crimes charged. However, he was not informed prior to the interrogation of any of his constitutional rights. He was not given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer before being questioned, and he did not have an attorney present during the interrogation. Miranda had dropped out of school before completing the ninth grade and had a history of mental problems. He was convicted solely on the basis of his alleged confession and sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison. His attorneys appealed the conviction, and the appeal was ultimately heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which threw out the conviction, finding that police had violated his constitutional rights by neglecting to tell him he had the right to an attorney, as well as the right to remain silent.
The Miranda court ruled that when a suspect is taken into custody, the following warning must be given:
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we can ask you any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now, without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering at any time.”
The Source of the Miranda Warnings
The general language of the Miranda warnings is found in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment protects the accused from potential self-incrimination with the language “No person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” The Sixth Amendment grants additional protections, including the defendant’s rights to:
- a speedy and public trial,
- trial by an impartial jury in the state and district where the crime was allegedly committed,
- be informed of the nature and circumstances of the allegations,
- confront any witnesses,
- have a process for compelling favorable witnesses to provide testimony, and
- have the assistance of legal counsel in his defense.
How to Respond When Stopped or Questioned by Police
According to subsequent court rulings, police are required to give the Miranda warning only if you are being questioned in police custody. Accordingly, if police stop you while driving but don’t detain you, Miranda warnings are not required, and police may ask questions without giving you the warning. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t have the same constitutional rights. You are protected whether or not you are taken into custody, but the police don’t have to warn you unless they take you into custody.
Accordingly, whenever you are confronted by police officers, it’s usually in your best interests to say as little as possible—you have that right. If an officer asks you a direct question, you can choose not to answer. Your refusal to answer cannot, by itself, be grounds for an arrest, with one exception. In Texas, you must give your name, address, and date of birth to a peace officer. If you refuse, you may be charged with a crime.
Contact the Proven Criminal Defense Lawyers at Bailey & Galyen
At the law office of Bailey & Galyen, we offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment with an aggressive criminal defense attorney, contact us by email or call our offices at 844-402-2992. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.