You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?*
Deaundre Barnes kind of knew what the Miranda warning meant when he was arrested for allegedly stabbing a man for interrupting his argument with his girlfriend. According to the Tampa Bay Times article, when he was arrested by the police, Mr. Barnes refused to answer their questions. However, Mr. Barnes didn’t get it all right; he apparently slipped up at one time or another because the article states that he listed his occupation as “drug dealer” on some kind of paperwork. Not a smart move, given that Mr. Barnes is allegedly on drug offender probation.
The substance of Miranda is that you do not have to answer any questions by the police. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court. Many cases that come across my desk involve a criminal defendant who told the police everything. Many times those defendants are surprised to learn that the police are using their own statements against them. “I thought they were supposed to Mirandize me,” is probably the second-most common statement I hear from clients. What those clients didn’t know is that the police are free to ask any questions they want – even lie – to get answers during their interactions with suspects and/or witnesses. It is only when the police arrest someone, or a reasonable person would feel that he or she is not free to leave that the police need to Mirandize someone.
Up until that point, the police can ask any questions they want to – but a person would be a fool to answer them. Simply put, no one is required to answer any of their questions. Instead of answering their questions, a person can respond with “Am I under arrest officer?” Chances are, if the officer wants to make an arrest, he’s already came to that conclusion long before anyone asks him, and nothing a person says is going to change his mind at that point anyway. By asking him, the person being questioned puts the officer on notice that the person knows what his rights are. If the officer responds to the question by stating that the person is under arrest, then it would be perfectly within a person’s right to ask to be Mirandized or to refuse to answer any of his questions, since we all have the right to remain silent. Once a person invokes his or her right to remain silent (something that must be done expressly), the police must stop all questioning, if that person is under arrest. If the officer tells a person that he or she is not under arrest, (understand that this could be a lie) it is still tell important to state that none of his questions will be answered. It is also important to ask politely, “can I go now?” Note: Just because a person is not under arrest does not mean that he or she is immediately free to leave. For example, if someone has been stopped for a blown tail light or for speeding, he or she can’t just drive off until the police officer has completed the traffic stop.
*The wording of Miranda rights vary depending on the jurisdiction, but the substance should remain the same. This one is used by Alaskan State Troopers.