We all strongly associate the reading of Miranda rights with someone being arrested. But what does it really matter whether police read them or not? What effect does it have on the outcome of a criminal case?
Does an officer have to read me my rights?
I am often asked this question by clients who feel their rights have been violated by the officer's failure to read them their Miranda warnings at the time of their arrest. "The officer didn't even read me my rights," they say. They sometimes wonder, "Can we get the case dismissed?"
When a person is arrested, police will often advise them of their Miranda rights, i.e., their right to remain silent and not answer any questions without a lawyer present, and the right to have a free lawyer represent them if they don't have money to pay a lawyer, etc. But reading these rights is not required in every case.
An officer is only obligated to read a person their Miranda rights when the officer intends to question that person about the crime. Often, an officer does not plan to ask any questions, so they never read "Miranda." This sometimes occurs in cases where the officer witnesses the crime. It also occurs in domestic violence cases, where the officers are satisfied with only the complaining witness's side of the story--they don't plan to look any further by questioning the suspect.
When should these rights be read?
If you were expecting police to automatically advise you of your rights at the time of your arrest, you might be disappointed. When police arrest a person, they will rarely read the Miranda warnings as they apply handcuffs. Officers usually read these warnings right before asking questions, which could be hours after the arrest.
Police often make every effort to downplay the importance of these warnings, hoping the person will not choose to "remain silent." A common technique is to read the rights as if they are a mere formality.
For example, an officer might say "Before we can get your side of the story, I just have to read you these rights to make sure you understand. Then you and I can have a talk about what happened." The effect is that many people are barely listening to the warnings, and fewer people actually understand them. They might not think they have much of a choice when it comes to talking to the police, or that maybe they can talk their way out of criminal charges.
Police--and society as a whole--have every interest in criminals confessing their crimes. The law doesn't really help people get away crimes to which they confess. The police have rules they need to follow to get a confession, but they are given much leeway.
If you offer information before being asked, that's different.
If a person makes incriminating comments to police on their own--without the officer asking them anything--their statements will be used against them in court even if the officer never read them their rights.
Thus, it is important to remember to remain silent even if you haven't been warned to do so. If you blurt out incriminating statements on your own, your lawyer might struggle to keep those statements out of evidence at a trial.
What happens if police wrongfully failed to read me my rights before questioning?
It is truly the rare case that police fail to read a person their Miranda rights before questioning them. Officers know that they must read these rights, or else risk the suspect's statements being useless in court.
But if police do fail to follow this protocol, the court would not dismiss a case based solely on this failure. The statements given to police should not be admissible in court, but any other incriminating evidence might still be useful in a prosecution.
A lawyer would have to submit a written request (a "motion") to the court in order to keep these statements away from a jury during a trial. If the court grants that motion, the trial could still occur without those statements if there is other evidence of guilt.
Every case is unique, so be sure to consult with a lawyer familiar with the complex legal concepts surrounding Miranda warnings.