I Was Not Read My Miranda Rights: Was My Arrest Legal?

The Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent, are broad and sweeping.

Until 2010, the answer to this question was a resounding “no.” Then, the Supreme Court decided Berghuis v. Thompkins. Police officers in Southfield, a Detroit suburb, picked up Van Chester Thompkins on suspicion of murder. After a lengthy interrogation, Thompkins confessed. Officers never read Thompkins his Miranda rights (you have the right to remain silent, etc.). Thompkins never told investigators he would not answer questions and never asked for a lawyer. A sharply-divided court ruled that his failure to assert his rights constituted a waiver of those rights.

Nevertheless, these rights still apply. In many cases, the failure to properly administer Miranda rights is still an effective defense for a Norcross criminal defense attorney. Other procedural errors include illegal law enforcement stops and illegal searches and seizures. Procedural defenses are usually very effective in court. If police officers make mistakes, they cannot go back in time and reverse them, and no apology or other act can possibly make things right.

When Does Miranda Apply?

On TV and in the movies, officers usually read suspects their rights when they slap on the handcuffs and tell them, “You’re under arrest for _____.”

Incidentally, according to another controversial Supreme Court decision, officers do not have to tell suspects the reason for an arrest until the suspect arrives at the station house, at the earliest. In some cases, suspects might not even find out why officers arrested them until the formal arraignment, which happens about three days after an arrest.

If officers wait until they arrest suspects to read them their Miranda rights, officers have waited too long. Legally, officers must read suspects these rights before they start custodial interrogation.

“Custody” means the defendant does not feel free to leave. In the above case, Thompkins probably did not feel free to leave when officers first approached him. “Interrogation” means talking to a defendant, not asking questions about a certain offense. Seemingly unrelated questions, like “Where were you last night?” also count. Moreover, experienced officers know how to extract information from suspects without asking questions at all.

How Do I Assert My Rights?

Many people, including the dissenting Justices, heavily criticized Berghuis v. Thompkins and accused the majority of “gutting Miranda.” However, this decision did not come out of left field. There is a big difference between assent and consent, especially in criminal law.

Assume Officer Smith asks for permission to search Tom’s house, and Tom says something like “I guess I don’t have a choice.” Tom assented to the search, but he did not consent to it. Therefore, the owner consent exception to the search warrant requirement probably does not apply.

Likewise, simply refusing to answer questions is not sufficient, at least not anymore. Even an assertion like “I won’t say anything until I talk to my lawyer” may not be enough. Instead, defendants usually need to say they are asserting their constitutional right to remain silent, or something along those lines.

Incidentally, the Fifth Amendment is not limited to verbal silence. It also applies to physical silence. For example, DUI suspects need not perform field sobriety tests, like the walk and turn, or blow into Breathalyzers. In some cases, asserting these rights could have some adverse consequences.

Connect With a Hard-Hitting Gwinnett County Lawyer

You still have the right to remain silent. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Norcross, contact Zimmerman & Associates, Attorneys at Law. We routinely handle matters in Fulton County and nearby jurisdictions.