What is a Miranda warning?
Since the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona, law enforcement officers must tell suspects of their right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning before there are interrogated.
The typical Miranda warning states, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense."
When should the Miranda warning be given?
The Miranda warning is only given when a person police intend to interrogate is arrested and placed in custodial custody. That means anything you say prior to an arrest can be used as evidence against you in court. Many people have served long prison sentences because of information they provided to law enforcement before their arrest.
If I am not under arrest do I have to answer questions?
No. Police officers may take notes of their interaction with you and these notes may one day end up as evidence in court. Most people do not keep records of their conversations with police and are at a disadvantage when, several months or years later, they are asked to recall precisely what was said by whom in court.
When an officer says, "Hold on. I want to talk with you," how should I respond?
Your initial response is important because of how the officer will react to what you say and how you say it. An aggressive, "What do you want?" may provoke the officer to order you to put your hands on your head while he or she searches you for weapons.
If you politely say, "How can I help you?" you tell the officer you are willing to cooperate, at least initially. It may lead the officer to say, "We're investigating a burglary and want to know if you saw anything."
Try not to respond in a way that the officer may interpret as a challenge to his or her authority.
What are the general rules about speaking to an officer before an arrest?
In most situations you have no obligation to answer police questions without an attorney present.
If you think the officer suspects you have been involved in any criminal activity, remember that the officer does not have to tell you about your Constitutional rights unless he or she intends to arrest you and interrogate you.
It is perfectly legal to say, "Officer, I do not want to speak with you." At this point you can turn and go away. The officer may challenge you or insist that you answer questions. The officer may verbally or physically restrain you or arrest you and take you to the station without issuing the Miranda warning.
If you are not allowed to leave, you have been arrested, which means the police consider you a suspect in a specific crime. Whether or not you have been read your Miranda rights, you should refuse to tell the officers anything but your name and date of birth without an attorney present. Firmly state, "I won't answer any further questions unless I have a lawyer present."
Won't it be worse for me if I don't cooperate?
You may have to spend a while longer in jail until you can arrange for your attorney. If you try to talk your way out of jail, however, you could end up spending a much longer time in prison. After your arrest, do not speak with the police without an attorney present.
What if they promise me a deal if I talk?
Police officers cannot make deals. Only the prosecutor can offer you a deal for cooperation or for information on other crimes. Officers often question suspects without audio or video taping the interrogation so there is no record of any agreement. They may promise you a shorter sentence or other considerations if you confess or give them a statement, then refuse to make good on the "deal."
What if they say someone else informed on me?
All the more reason to remain silent and wait for your attorney. The police will say almost anything to encourage you to confess to a crime or give them information they can later use against you. It is not illegal for them to lie to you about what evidence they have against you or about what others have said about you or to make promises they have no intention of keeping.
What should I say after an arrest?
In general, do not give the police anything but your name and date of birth, and then ask to have your lawyer present for questioning.
If you are not under arrest, say, "I want to leave. If I am free to leave, please tell me so immediately."
If you have been placed under arrest you could say:
"Officer, please understand that I am exercising my right to remain silent and to be represented by an attorney.
I refuse to say anything until I consult with a lawyer who represents me. I also refuse to consent to any search of my premises or any premises under my control, or property, including my car, my body, or my effects.
I refuse to appear in any line up or to speak or display myself or my property at your direction without first consulting with my attorney.
I am exercising all my rights under the U.S. Constitution and the State of Texas to be free from interference with my person or property.
I am exercising my Miranda rights. If you ignore these rights and seek a waiver, I want to speak with a lawyer prior to any discussion with you.
I request a reasonable opportunity to secure my property, if I am to be taken from my present location, separated from my property, or taken into custody. I do not consent to the impoundment or inventory of my property.