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Why do police officers read suspects their rights?

On Behalf of | Jul 6, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Texas residents who have watched law enforcement procedural television shows or movies will probably know that police officers must inform suspects that they have the right to remain silent and ask for an attorney before they question them. These rights are protected by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, but they are often called Miranda rights because of a landmark 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. If police officers question a suspect without first advising them of their Miranda rights, the information they uncover would be inadmissible in court.

Miranda v. Arizona

Ernesto Miranda confessed to raping and murdering an 18-year-old woman after being interrogated for two hours by Phoenix Police Department detectives. The nation’s highest court ruled that the interrogation was unconstitutional because Miranda was never told that he could refuse to answer questions or consult with a criminal defense attorney. Before the Miranda ruling, the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination prevented Americans from being forced to testify against themselves in court. The Supreme Court made notifying suspects of this right a fundamental part of law enforcement procedure.

Waivers and ambiguity

Police officers usually ask suspects to sign a document known as a Miranda waiver when they agree to answer questions after being given a Miranda warning. These waivers ensure that any answers given during an interrogation will be admissible in court. When suspects invoke their rights, they must do so clearly and unambiguously. If they do not, any voluntary statements they make could be interpreted as a waiver of their rights. When suspects answer police questions without being informed about their rights, any evidence discovered as a result of the information they provide will be excluded under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.

Miranda rights

The right to remain silent and the right speak with an attorney are called Miranda rights because the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miranda v. Arizona requires police officers to notify suspects about them. If police officers fail to give a suspect the required Miranda warning, the information they gather during the subsequent interrogation and any evidence they gather as a result cannot be used in court.