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What are Miranda rights and why are they so important?

We’ve all seen crime shows where the police, as they are arresting a suspect, read them their rights. It is often a high drama moment, and many people have heard the phrases so many times that they know them by heart. What movies and television shows are reenacting is the moment when law enforcement informs a suspect of their Miranda rights.

What many people do not realize is what these rights are and how important they are in protecting an individual against the aggressive tactics that police may try to gather incriminating evidence against them. Residents of Lancaster and throughout Pennsylvania who are in trouble should always know their rights and how to build a strong defense when they are facing criminal charges.

What are Miranda rights?

In 1966, the Supreme Court took aim at police intimidation in Miranda v. Arizona , handing down a landmark ruling that law enforcement must inform a suspect of their constitutional rights before they can question them. These protections are in the Fifth Amendment:

“No person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself… (U.S. Const. amend. V).

They are also in the Sixth Amendment:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” (U.S. Const. amend. VI).

In fact, the officer must give a suspect the Miranda warnings not at the time of the arrest, but when the suspect is in custody and before an interrogation. When the police question someone in their custody, the individual has a right to not answer them so that they do not say something that may later be used against them. They also have a right to legal counsel.

How do Miranda rights protect you?

During an interrogation, law enforcement will do everything they can to gather the evidence they need to support a conviction. They may threaten the suspect, intimidate them and leave them feeling like they have no choice but to cooperate. Anything the suspect says can be used against them later at trial.

The five statements the officer must make are:

  1. You have the right to remain silent.
  2. Anything you say can and will be used against you.
  3. You have a right to an attorney.
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
  5. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?

If an officer does not read a suspect their rights, the prosecution cannot use any incriminating statements they reveal during questioning at trial, and in fact, the court may dismiss a case on these grounds.