As a criminal lawyer in Charleston, I’m often asked whether a criminal charge will be dismissed if the police fail to read to you your rights before an arrest. These rights, commonly known as Miranda warnings, are as follows: (1) You have the right to remain silent; (2) anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law; (3) you have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned; and (4) if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish one.
The Police Don’t Have to Give You Miranda Warnings Before They Arrest You
A common misconception is that law enforcement must tell you about your Miranda rights BEFORE they arrest you. The police are only required to read you your rights AFTER you are arrested (in custody) but BEFORE they start asking you questions. For example, if you’re pulled over for a DUI, the police can ask you questions about where you’ve been, where you are going, how much you’ve had to drink. Because the police are only “investigating” at this stage and haven’t yet arrested you, Miranda warnings aren’t required. Having said that, you don’t have to answer ANY of these types of questions. However, if the police arrest you (typically by placing you in handcuffs so that you aren’t free to leave), then they must give you Miranda warnings before they continue to ask you questions.
The Criminal Charges Aren’t Dropped if the Police Fail to Give You Miranda Warnings
Another common misconception is that your criminal charges will be dismissed if the police fail to give you Miranda warnings. Under these circumstances, the result is that any statements you gave while under arrest and without Miranda warnings are inadmissible in a court of law. Stated another way, the court will “suppress” your statements. Otherwise, you can still be prosecuted using any other evidence that law enforcement has against you.
Miranda Doesn’t Require That You Be Told That You Can Stop Answering Questions
If you are ever being questioned while in police custody, you can stop answering questions at any time and demand to speak with an attorney before going any further. However, the police aren’t required to tell you that you can stop at any time so long as they gave you the basic Miranda warning stated above.
It’s a Good Idea to Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent
Much too often, people choose not to exercise their legal right to remain silent and to speak to a lawyer before answering questions. Some people don’t want to appear uncooperative. Remember, this is your legal right, and there is NOTHING uncooperative about using it! Some people think that only “guilty” people exercise their right to remain silent. Just because the police arrest you doesn’t make you guilty of anything. In fact, innocent people get arrested all that time. The bottom line is that you are INNOCENT until proven guilty and you don’t have to defend yourself by talking. Lastly, some people think that they can talk their way out of an arrest. Perhaps that is true in some situations. In my experience, talking to law enforcement will only get you into more trouble. In other words, you can’t go wrong by exercising your right to remaining quiet and to speak to a lawyer BEFORE you answer any questions.