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'They didn't read me my rights.'

In our criminal defense practice, new clients often tell us: "I was arrested, and they didn't read me my rights." The rights they're making reference to are called a Miranda warning, and despite what you may see in the movies and on TV, police officers don't routinely read people their rights when they make arrests. The only time an officer is legally required to give the warning is before a person is interrogated while in custody.

Therefore, if you haven't been read your rights during an arrest, the chances of your case being thrown out of court are not likely. On the other hand, if your rights are not read to you before a "custodial interrogation," your lawyer could be able to prevent your words from being used against you in court.

What Are Your Miranda Rights?

The Miranda rights originally came from a case entitled Miranda v. the State of Arizona in 1966. In the case, a man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested and questioned by officers for two hours before he signed a written confession. He was not told that he had the right to a lawyer, that he didn't have to make the statement, or that his words would be used against him. The court originally considered the confession as evidence, found him guilty and sentenced him to decades behind bars. But an attorney appealed on his behalf, and the case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court case established that if the police want to do an interrogation in custody, they need to remind the person that they have two rights: The right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The case says, "The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him."

After Miranda, many other cases have debated what it means to be interrogated "in custody." Is it when the handcuffs are put on? When the arrest is made? What about a traffic stop? What about when a person just gets the idea that they aren't allowed to leave? Legally, it has been determined that a custodial interrogation is questioning that happens when the police have deprived the suspect of his or her freedom of action in any significant way.

They're your rights. Use them.

At any point, those in custody have the right to waive their Miranda rights before they're questioned--so long as officers are certain they understand the rights as they've been read. Unbelievably, many people are read their rights and choose not to use them. They talk anyway. Or they never ask for a lawyer.

The bottom line is, those who are read their rights should use them! This is your opportunity to request a lawyer. For those who request a lawyer, police officers are not legally permitted to continue with the interrogation until your lawyer is present by your side. This reality means you don't have to go through the rest of the process alone. Therefore, it's critical to obtain a lawyer as soon as possible.

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