I Was Not Read My Rights

During the course of my professional career, first as a prosecutor and then as a criminal defense attorney, I have come to realize that there is no U.S. Supreme Court case that is as misunderstood as Miranda v. Arizona is.

In large part, the general public’s misunderstanding of the legal implication of an officer’s failure to read a person their “Miranda Warnings” has been formed by mass media and television shows which have lead people to believe that an officer’s failure to read an individual their rights leads to an automatic dismissal of the defendant’s case. Unfortunately for defendants, nothing could be further from the truth.

The purpose of this article is to inform the reader about the legal implication of the Miranda case and its legal precedent, inform the reader of when Miranda Warnings must be given, and what the appropriate legal remedy is when Miranda Warning have not been tendered under circumstances that the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed that a defendant should be “read his rights”. This article should not be deemed as legal advice and should not be substituted for the advice and counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney who has had the time to conduct legal research and apply it to the particular facts and circumstances of an individual’s case.

When are police required to read me my rights?

In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)., U.S. Supreme Court held that Defendants subjected to “in custody” interrogations must be informed of their right to remain silent and right to an attorney. Miranda does not require that an officer give Miranda warnings to everyone whom the officer approaches for information concerning a crime. A person is considered “in custody” when he has been arrested or otherwise deprived of his liberty in any significant way.

Is a person “in custody” for Miranda warning purposes during a traffic stop?

While a traffic stop is considered a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes constitutionally baring unreasonable search and seizures, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently Held that most traffic stops do not constitute being “in custody” for Miranda warning purposes and police are allowed to ask questions, even incriminating questions, without being required to inform the motorist or their passengers of their rights to remain silent and to retain an attorney.

In Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), The U.S. Supreme Court held that persons temporarily detained pursuant to routine traffic stops are not “in custody” for purposes of Miranda and need not be given warnings before questioning. Miranda is applicable to misdemeanors. Berkemer involved a DUI stop where the officer had the motorist exit his vehicle, perform roadside tests whose purpose was to determine whether the motorist was impaired and asked the motorist incriminating questions regarding his sobriety. The Court determined that while the stop was a seizure, and the tests and questioning that followed occurred during a seizure, the question that occurred roadside even after the motorist was ordered to exit his vehicle was not a custodial interrogation and therefore did not require that the motorist be Mirandized prior to being asked questions. However, once the motorist was in handcuffs, and placed in the back of the officer’s squad car, the motorist was “in custody” and the officer must inform the motorist of his Miranda warnings prior to questioning.

Further, the U.S. Supreme Court reinforced its ruling in Berkemer by holding in Pennsylvania v. Bruder, 488 U.S. 9 (1988) that a traffic stop where a defendant is required to exit a vehicle does not constitute being “in custody” for Miranda purposes even though an individual would not necessarily feel free to leave the area.

Does my case get dismissed if I am “in custody” and am not read my rights before questioning?

The U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Patane, 542 U.S. 630 (2004), was faced with the question of what is the appropriate legal remedy for when a defendant has been subjected to an “in custody” interrogation and has given an unwarned statement?

The Court in Patane held that the appropriate remedy for an unwarned statement given in response to police questioning while a defendant is “in custody” is not the exclusion of any tangible evidence but merely the exclusion of the incriminating statement that was given in response to police questioning during a custodial interrogation, So, for instance, if a person is placed in handcuffs and is then asked if there is cannabis somewhere and whether the cannabis belongs to them, their answer could be excluded from any trial. However, it is feasible that the cannabis would still be introduced as evidence and any fingerprints linking the defendant to the cannabis and testimony of the location of the cannabis could be introduced at trial to link the defendant to the cannabis. However, if a statement is coerced, then, the tangible evidence can be excluded if the appropriate motion is filed and is granted by the trial court.


While the law regarding confessions can be very fact specific and nuanced which requires the knowledge of a skilled defense attorney, it is my hope that this brief article has assisted the reader in better understanding when police must give Miranda warnings, the implication of the law and what the legal remedy is for failure on the part of the police to properly warn a defendant of his rights.

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Posted in Criminal Law

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