One sentence you can expect to hear in a TV show or movie featuring police is, “You have the right to remain silent.” You may even hear a character refer to this as “Miranda rights,” although you may be uncertain what that means. Far from being a catch phrase for Hollywood, the Miranda rights a police officer reads in the movies reflect the actual rights you should hear from police if they place you under arrest.

While many recognize and can even recite the Miranda warnings, few understand what they mean and how critical they are to the outcome of a criminal matter. Understanding the meaning and protections of the Miranda warning may help you avoid making mistakes that could cost you if you find yourself charged with a crime.

The rules of Miranda

The name Miranda comes from the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona. While the Supreme Court has adjusted and modified the Miranda rules over the years, their purpose remains the same. Police must inform you of specific rights that may prevent you from incriminating yourself throughout the investigation of a crime. The basic warnings include the following:

  • You have the right to refuse to answer questions investigators may ask beyond providing your identification.
  • If you talk with investigators, you risk providing the prosecutor with information to use against you if your case goes to court.
  • You may request to have a lawyer present at any time police question you.
  • As soon as you ask to speak with an attorney or invoke your right to remain silent, police must immediately stop questioning you.

Police do not have to advise you of your rights until after they have taken you into custody. However, this does not mean officers won’t try to engage you in conversation or ask you questions to obtain information before they arrest you. It is always wise to keep quiet if police suspect you of committing a crime.

Guard your rights

If police read you the Miranda warnings, question you and release you, they do not necessarily have to remind you of your rights should they bring you back later for more questioning, even if weeks have passed. Your Miranda warning is still in effect and answering police questions during a second interrogation may count as a waiver of your rights.

If police arrest you and question you without advising you of your Miranda rights, whatever you say in an interrogation may not be admissible in court.