Miranda v. Arizona is the groundbreaking case that required police officers to let every person held for custodial interrogation (the person is not free to leave) know of their constitutional rights to: (1) remain silent; (2) contact an attorney and discuss this case with an attorney before speaking with police; and (3) that any statements they provide to police after waiving these rights can and will be used against them in court. This warning has been played out hundreds and probably thousands of times on television cop shows, but does anyone really know when the cops have to give you the Miranda warning, and when they can just talk to you. Hopefully this article shines a little light on that.
Before I proceed, however, I want to remind you that this article is not meant to provide legal advice. It is meant for information purposes only. You should not act based solely on this article, and if you are faced with a situation where you think this article may apply, please contact an attorney and talk with them. Only they will be able to assess your specific situation and be able to properly advise you how to act.
As an example, let’s assume you are driving down the road in Kirkland. You’ve had a couple of beers throughout the day and smoked some marijuana. On your way home a police officer gets behind you and notices you are swerving from lane to lane. Because he believes you might be driving under the influence, he pulls you over to investigate. After walking up to the car, the officer immediately notices you are not your normal self. After a very short time he decides he is going to arrest you for driving under the influence. But instead of arresting you, he asks you to perform some field sobriety tests, which you fail. After arresting you, he puts you in the car, takes you to the station, and performs a blood test to determine if you are under the influence of alcohol. At no time does he give the Miranda warnings. You are then charged with driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
The rule regarding when Miranda must be given generally is “[T]he prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of [a] defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. By custodial interrogation, we mean questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.” Essentially, if you are under arrest or not free to go, and the police are going to question you, you must be given Miranda.
But for traffic stops, when that occurs is a difficult determination. For example, in the example, above, wasn’t the guy no longer free to leave the moment the officer turned his lights on? If not then, what about the time the officer determined he was going to arrest the guy but continued to ask him questions and ask him to perform field sobriety tests? If not then, surely it occurred when he was actually arrested and placed in the back of the car? At any point in time the guy could have thought he was under arrest and at that point should have been advised of his rights to contact a Kirkland DUI lawyer to help him.
But the test is what a reasonable person would expect coupled with the officer’s duty to investigate crimes. Although changed somewhat by recent case law, in the past this guy would not have been required to receive Miranda warnings until he was placed in the car. That is not to say, however, that he had to speak with the police. He could have invoked his right to silence and asked to speak with a Kirkland DUI lawyer right after he provided his license and registration if asked any questions by the officer (there is a reasonable expectation that you provide license and registration if driving a vehicle).
So, what is the lesson here? Just because you haven’t been given Miranda doesn’t mean your statements will be stricken as evidence. Talk as little as possible if the police are asking you questions and invoke your right to silence early and often.