Miranda Warnings

Individuals suspected of criminal offenses in the U.S. are typically read a list of rights known as a Miranda warning before being arrested. The warning stems from the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Miranda vs. Arizona ruling.

Contrary to popular belief, an arrest isn’t automatically voided if police don’t read a suspect his or her rights prior to making an arrest. However, if police don’t issue a proper Miranda warning prior to questioning an individual who is in custody, any information obtained may be suppressed from the evidence by a skilled defense attorney.

The Supreme Court didn’t spell out the exact wording of the Miranda warning in its ruling, but police have created a statement that is read to suspects prior to questioning. The following statement is typically used to advise arrestees of their constitutional rights:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present now and during any future questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you at no cost.”

It’s imperative for police to warn any criminal suspect of his or her right to remain silent before starting to question the individual. The statement about the right to remain silent must be accompanied by the information that anything said can and will be used against the individual in court.

It’s equally important for police to inform individuals that they have the right to consult with an attorney and have that lawyer present during questioning. Police must also inform the driver that if he or she cannot afford one, a lawyer will be appointed at no cost.

If the accused driver informs officers that he or she wishes to consult with an attorney, police must immediately stop any questioning. The individual must be given an opportunity to confer with the lawyer and have counsel present during any subsequent interrogation. If a driver who cannot obtain an attorney indicates that one is wanted before speaking to police, investigators must respect the decision to remain silent.

Miranda warnings should always be issued prior to questioning, but police aren’t required to issue one merely to make an arrest. The purpose of the Miranda warning is to protect individuals from making incriminating statements during interrogation. The only thing required to make a valid arrest is probable cause – a reasonable belief that the individual has committed a crime.

If officers questioned a suspected drunk driver without issuing a Miranda warning, the arrest itself may still be valid. However, any statements made after arrest can be suppressed. This doesn’t include routine questions such as name, address, and date of birth, and any rudimentary questions asked during the initial traffic stop. Police also may give chemical tests without issuing a Miranda warning, but drivers being tested may refuse to answer questions.

Rules about Miranda warnings apply only to communication, not physical evidence. In addition, the arresting officer can testify about how a statement was made without repeating the actual words. For example, if the driver seemed disoriented or his or her speech was slurred, the officer may testify about those facts at trial.

Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint whether the driver was actually under arrest when incriminating statements were made. Statements made before an individual is arrested are not typically subject to Miranda rules. Pre-arrest questions are typically investigative in nature and normally occur during relatively brief traffic stops. Answers to questions such as “Have you been drinking?” or “Where have you been?” are usually admissible in a driving under the influence case regardless of whether a Miranda warning was given.

The initial interaction between the driver and police, including the initial traffic stop and the performance of field sobriety tests, is not subject to Miranda restrictions. The driver’s constitutional privilege against self-incrimination only protects against giving testimony against his or herself, and does not preclude the accused from giving real or physical evidence. Field sobriety tests are considered physical evidence, not testimony, so their performance doesn’t violate the privilege against self-incrimination.

Any interaction between the driver and an officer prior to arrest isn’t subject to Miranda restrictions, so police are trained to obtain as much information as possible before taking the driver into custody.

Verbal information during field testing after arrest, such as in-station testing, is subject to Miranda issues.

If an arrested driver is questioned without being given a Miranda warning, any responses can be excluded as evidence. A New Jersey DWI / DUI defense attorney who thoroughly understands the issues surrounding Miranda warnings will attempt to have any improperly obtained evidence suppressed at trial.

Please contact Levow DWI Law at 877-593-1717, or email us at evanlevow@newjerseydwilawyer.com to discuss whether any statements you made during your contact with the police can be suppressed or kept out of evidence.