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Understanding your Miranda rights and the protections they offer

Getting arrested can be pretty scary. Even if you know you are innocent, you may be overwhelmed and therefore not thinking clearly when you are taken into custody. Many arrestees often say or do things that they regret later because instinct told them to automatically cooperate with police.

This is why Miranda rights (sometimes called the Miranda warning) are so important. Today, we’ll dissect the short speech that nearly everyone has heard on television police dramas. In that short speech are the criminal defense rights that you have as an arrestee.

The Miranda rights date back to a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona. Although the exact text of the speech can vary somewhat, this is the version most people are familiar with:

“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.”

In more plainspoken terms, the right to remain silent is a protection against accidentally or intentionally incriminating yourself with what you say to police. Officers and interrogators may try to ask you questions after reading you your Miranda rights, but you are not obligated to answer until you have a defense attorney by your side. As the speech states, what you do say will likely be used against you later in court.

It is also important to understand that you have the right to an attorney. As a general rule, you should avoid answering any questions until you have a defense attorney there with you. A public defender is available for free if you can’t afford another attorney.

Here are some important things to keep in mind about your Miranda rights:

  • Police are generally required to read Miranda rights to arrestees, but there are some exceptions to this requirement.
  • Miranda rights do NOT apply to questions asked prior to arrest, so be careful what you say whenever a police officer asks you questions.
  • If you were arrested but were not informed of your Miranda rights, anything incriminating you say during police questioning cannot be used against you at trial.

Remember: A criminal defense attorney should be by your side before you answer any questions.

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