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Miranda rights: a bedrock yet complex criminal law safeguard

| Oct 21, 2020 | Criminal Defense

You’ve heard this before, right? In fact, it’s likely that most Coloradans who have spent any time at all over the years watching crime-linked movies and television shows have heard police officers utter the familiar refrain scores of times.

It is kick-started with these words that are almost chiseled in the minds of many Americans: “You have the right to remain silent.”

Additional sentences that follow that intro in the time-honored (50 years-plus and counting, following a seminal U.S. Supreme Court ruling) Miranda warning/rule can also be closely recited by legions of people. If you do say something … you have the right to legal counsel … if you can’t afford an attorney . …

If there is a definitive list somewhere of key safeguards relevant to individuals interacting with police officers in a criminal law matter, Miranda is unquestionably on it, and underscored. The warning serves as a hallmark protection for citizens in a democracy marked by rule-of-law expectations and expected freedom from law enforcers’ abusive practices and excessive conduct.

The Miranda warning spotlighted: its fundamental purpose

Imagine a society where police officers and other law enforcement officials can simply detain an individual and pressure him or her for information that can subsequently be used to secure a criminal conviction. Many people who reasonably view themselves as being arrested (in police custody and not free to leave) are understandably intimidated and badly frightened by such a scenario.

And they consequently say things that might not be in their best interests and can be used against them in a starkly adverse way.

The Miranda rule guards against that. It mandates that police interrogators essentially take a time out at the point where an individual being questioned has been taken into custody or is otherwise significantly deprived of freedom. Further communications from that moment that are focused on securing crime-linked information can proceed only after delivery of the Miranda warning.

The key nature of “custody” in the Miranda context

Individuals sometimes assume that they must automatically be notified of their Miranda rights whenever a police officer stops them and commences a line of questioning.

That is a mistaken assumption. As stated, Miranda imperatives kick in only at the point of custody.

Candidly, that can sometimes be difficult to accurately pinpoint, and law enforcers often take pains to ensure a detained person that he or she is not under arrest and is simply engaging voluntarily with investigators.

Custody is a fluid concept, though. One in-depth online overview of Miranda duly stresses that it attaches in any instance where a person is materially deprived of freedom. That can be “in a jail, at the scene of a crime, on a busy downtown street, or in the middle of an open field.”

The repercussions of a police failure to comply with Miranda requirements can be dire and even fatal to an investigation. Courts are quick to toss evidence in instances where Miranda rights have been violated.

The above overview emphasizes that complexity and various “ins and outs” can feature in any matter spotlighting Miranda. A proven criminal defense legal team can provide further information and, when necessary, diligent representation in a matter tied to this fundamentally important criminal law protection.

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