5. Miranda Rights & Exceptions – What is the process for executing an arrest?
Once an individual is under arrest, the government agent (collectively referred to as “police officer” or “officer”) will generally make the individual aware of her constitutional rights against self-incrimination. A “Miranda warning” is a written or verbal statement to the arrested individual substantially as follows, “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 an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you at no cost.” Once the police officer delivers the Miranda warning, anything that the defendant says in response to questions from the officer may be used in court. If the officer fails to advise the defendant of her rights, any statements made by the defendant pursuant to interrogation are not admissible at trial. There are, however, a number of exceptions to this rule:
• Unsolicited Statements – If a defendant makes unsolicited statements to the officer, those are admissible at trial. This means that the defendant made statements voluntarily and without being interrogated.
• Public Safety Exception – If there are exigent circumstances where public safety is at risk, this can justify government questioning prior to reading the Miranda warning. In such a situation, any statements made by the individual could be used against her in court.
• Other Evidence Sufficient of Conviction Rule – If there is sufficient evidence to convict an individual without the use of the individual’s statements in violation of the Miranda rights, failing to appropriately deliver the Miranda warning and using subsequent statements in court will not disrupt the conviction.
• Unequivocally and Assertively Request Counsel – If an individual does not request the presence of an attorney during interrogation, the Government does not have to immediately supply the individual with counsel. The request for counsel must be unequivocal.
The limited exceptions to the requirement to inform an accused of her Miranda rights are subject to some degree of controversy.
• Discussion: What purpose do you think reading the Miranda rights serves? How effective is reading the Miranda rights in achieving this purpose? Do officers often fail to read an individual her Miranda rights following arrest? Can you think of a situation in which it may be a good tactic for the officer to not read the Miranda rights?
• Practice Question: Gwen is a police officer. She receives a call that there is a violent crime in process and that an individual is injured. The only other information she receives is the address of the alleged incident. Gwen arrives on the scene and notices Thomas sitting on the curb with his head hung down. Gwen jumps out of the car and yells to Thomas, “There has been a violent crime reported. Have you seen anything suspicious?” Thomas looks up and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt her.” Gwen, realizing that Thomas is the alleged perpetrator replies, “Where is she?” Thomas replies, “I left her in the kitchen.” Gwen immediately handcuffs Thomas and radios in for assistance. She then rushes into the house and finds the victim on the floor. When the ambulance arrives, Gwen drives Thomas to the police station. She does not inform him of his Miranda rights. During the drive Thomas laments out loud about having hit the victim with a frying pan. Will Thomas’ statement made while sitting on the curb be used against him? What about the statements made while riding in the police car?