One of the most persistent misconceptions of criminal law is that people think the Miranda warning is a magic phrase that police officers must tell someone during an arrest. Thereafter, criminal defendants tell their attorneys that “the police officer did not read me my rights, so the charges have to be dismissed.” Unfortunately, this perception from television and film does not translate to what the Miranda warning actually seeks to protect against.
First and foremost, it helps to understand what Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) was all about. On March 13th, 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrest by police in Phoenix, Arizona based on suspicion that he was involved in the kidnapping and rape of an 18-year old woman. After two hours of questioning, he signed a written confession to the charges. However, he was never advised of his right to remain silent or his right to consult with an attorney before making statements. Even more importantly, he was not advised that any statements he made can and would be used against him in a court of law. Despite an objection from defense counsel, the judge admitted the confession at trial because he believed the statement was voluntary and it was written out a form containing the following typed statement:
- “I do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will, with no threats, coercion, or promises of immunity, and with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.”
Due to the confession and other evidence, Miranda was convicted at trial and sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence. On appeal, he argued that the confession was not fully voluntary because he was not aware of his rights at the time and, thus, should not have been admitted into the court proceedings. However, the Arizona Supreme Court determined that the statement was voluntary and believed that Miranda simply waived his rights because he never asked to talk to an attorney. Finally, the matter was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court which held, in its majority opinion, that no confession could be admissible unless a defendant was aware of his rights under the Fifth Amendment self-incrimination clause and the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney and voluntarily waived them. The Court acknowledged that custodial interrogations by their very nature are coercive and designed to elicit inculpatory statements from suspects. The U.S. Supreme Court stated:
- “We reverse. From the testimony of the officers and by the admission of respondent, it is clear that Miranda was not in any way apprised of his right to consult with an attorney and to have one present during the interrogation, nor was his right not to be compelled to incriminate himself effectively protected in any other manner. Without these warnings, the statements were inadmissible. The mere fact that he signed a statement which contained a typed-in clause stating that he had ‘full knowledge’ of his ‘legal rights’ does not approach the knowing and intelligent waiver required to relinquish constitutional rights.” Id at 492.
Since the jury could have relied on Miranda’s inadmissible confession in finding him guilty, the only appropriate remedy was to vacate his conviction. It is the final result of this case that leads most people to believe that, if the police do not give a suspect a warning of his rights when he is arrested, the entire basis of the arrest should be thrown out. However, the Miranda warnings are clear that they only apply to a situation where a suspect is making a confession in a custodial interrogation. In most jurisdictions, the statement that police officers must make to the suspect prior to questioning looks like this:
- “You are under arrest. Before we ask you any questions, you must understand what your rights are.”
- “You have the right to remain silent. You are not required to say anything to us at any time or to answer any questions.”
- “Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.”
- “You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned.”
- “If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you at public expense.”
- “You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.”
- WAIVER: “Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you? Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?”
When you are in a “custodial interrogation”, then it means two things. First, being in custody means you are either detained or arrested by the police and not free to leave. If a police officer asks you questions on a street corner where you could walk away at any time, you are NOT in custody and the Miranda warnings do not apply. An interrogation means that the suspect is giving answers in response to questions asked by law enforcement. An interrogation DOES NOT apply to unsolicited, voluntary statements made to police officers without being prompted. For example, if a suspect is riding in the back of the police car and screams at the top of his lungs “I DID IT” without a single word being said by police officers, then it does not qualify as an interrogation subject to Miranda warnings.
The remedy for a defendant where the police obtained a confession without the Miranda warnings given beforehand is suppression of that statement. Under the exclusionary rule, a judge can determine that the confession is inadmissible at trial and will not be heard by the jury. This does not mean that the charge is automatically dismissed. The prosecutor can still present other evidence of the defendant’s guilt and pursue a conviction. In cases where the confession was admissible at trial by the judge but was later determined by an appellate court to be inadmissible (like Ernesto Miranda’s case), then the only remedy is reversal because there is no way to determine how much the jury relied on it. At the pretrial level, the only relief that a defendant can pursue to eliminate a confession made in violation of Miranda v. Arizona is a motion to suppress the statement from trial. However, a Miranda violation does not nullify the arrest and does not automatically dismiss the charges.
Based on the holding in People v Walker, 374 Mich 331; 132 NW2d 87 (1965), a defendant in Michigan is entitled to request an evidentiary hearing to have the court determine whether the statements given in a custodial interrogation were voluntary before trial. At this so-called Walker hearing, the judge must consider many factors surrounding the circumstances of the statements given. Did the defendant request to speak to an attorney? Was the interrogation unreasonably lengthy to make a defendant believe that his only escape was to tell the police what they wanted to hear? Did the police officers explain the Miranda warnings to the defendant before they started asking questions? If the judge determines that the confession was voluntarily given, it will be admissible in court and properly considered by the jury. If the judge determines the confession was involuntary, it will be excluded at trial and the prosecutor needs to determine if he or she can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with other evidence, offer a better plea bargain, or be forced to dismiss the charges. A skilled lawyer can help evaluate from the fact and circumstances whether there is a strong case for suppressing the confession before considering any other legal options.
If you or a loved one is charged with any criminal offense in Michigan and needs legal representation, do not hesitate to call the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.