The Miranda warning is a police warning that is given to criminal suspects in police custody in the United States before they are asked questions relating to the commission of crimes. Police may request biographical information such as name, date of birth and address without reading their Miranda warnings. Compulsory confessions will not constitute admissible evidence unless suspects have been made aware of and waived their “Miranda rights”.
The Miranda warnings were mandated by the 1966 United States Supreme Court decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona as a means of protecting a criminal suspect’s Fifth Amendment right to avoid coercive self-incrimination (see right to silence).
However, since its creation by the Warren Court, the Supreme Court has indicated that the Miranda decision imposes preventative safeguards rather than protections mandated by the Fifth Amendment privilege.
The Supreme Court did not specify the exact wording to be used when informing a suspect of his or her rights. However, they did set down a set of guidelines which must be followed. The ruling states:
The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, an attorney will be provided at no cost to represent him.
As a result, American English has acquired the verb Mirandize, meaning to read to a suspect his or her Miranda rights (when that suspect is taken into custody for the purpose of interrogation).
Sample Miranda Warning
Though every U.S. jurisdiction has its own regulations regarding what, precisely, must be said to a person when they are arrested, the typical warning is as follows:
You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you at no cost. During any questioning, you may decide at any time to exercise these rights, not answer any questions, or make any statements.
The courts have since ruled that the warning must be “meaningful”, so it is usually required that the suspect be asked if he understands his rights. Sometimes, firm answers of “yes” are required. An arrestee’s silence is not a waiver. Evidence has been ruled inadmissible because of an arrestee’s poor knowledge of English and the failure of arresting officers to provide the warning in the arrestee’s language.
Also because of various education levels, officers must make sure the suspect understands what the officer is saying. It may be necessary to “translate” to the suspect’s level of understanding. Courts have ruled this admissible as long as the original waiver is said and the “translation” is recorded either on paper or on tape.
The right of a juvenile to remain silent without his or her parent or guardian present is provided in some jurisdictions.