Miranda Warnings

Purpose of police reading a suspect his rights

by Sami Azhari on December 23, 2011

Everyone has seen it on TV. When a person gets arrested, the police read him his rights. Only a rule this simple could cause so much confusion among people who have been arrested.

The rights everyone is referring to are those provided by the Supreme Court in the Miranda decision. Miranda was a defendant in Arizona who gave a confession and was later convicted of the rape and kidnapping of an 18-year old girl. The Supreme Court threw out the conviction and established a rule that a suspect must be warned of his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney.

…a suspect must be warned of his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney.

Illinois courts are bound by the Miranda decision, and so, police officers must warn the defendant of his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney. Police, judges, and lawyers refer to this as Miranda warnings.

But there is an exception to this rule, and this exception is the cause of confusion.

The police do not always have to give a suspect Miranda warnings. They have to read him his rights only if they want to ask him questions. If the police are not going to ask him questions, then they do not have to read him his rights.

Miranda warnings apply only where the police are trying to interrogate the defendant and use his answers against him in court. When the police make an arrest but do not ask the defendant any incriminating questions, then they do not have to read him his rights.

It is perfectly legal for the police to handcuff a suspect, put him in the squad, drive him to the station and hold him in a cell without ever reading him his rights. However, if the police want to get him to admit to a crime or sign a written confession, then they have to read him his rights (eg, Miranda warnings).

The rationale for the rule is that the constitution gives a suspect the right to remain silent and also the right to an attorney. This is the 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and 6th Amendment right to counsel. If a person confesses to a crime without knowing that he can remain silent or consult with an attorney, then his confession is not considered to be voluntary. Basically, the confession is not voluntary because the defendant was not fully informed.

Any statement made by a defendant that is not voluntary is inadmissible. It cannot be used as evidence against him in court.

In any case where the defendant made an admission, the attorney needs to determine whether he was Mirandized. If it is shown that he was not told he could remain silent or consult with an attorney, then the statement can be suppressed. The practical effect of suppressing a statement cannot be overstated. Before, the case against the client consisted of circumstantial evidence and a confession, but now the case consists only of circumstantial evidence. And this means the judge or jury can find reasonable doubt.

Illinois law enforcement officers usually read a suspect Miranda warnings in this manner:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?

If the above rights are not read, any statements made by the person arrested should be thrown out.

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