Miranda Rights

by Aaron Delgado
October 15th, 2018

What ultimately happened to Mr. Ernesto Miranda is a mystery to most people, yet almost everyone is familiar with his landmark case, Miranda v. Arizona, and legacy of Miranda warnings. Mr. Miranda’s case held that criminal suspects must be informed of their right to consult with an attorney before being questioned, which became known as the Miranda warnings. The Miranda warnings are intended to protect citizens who are in custody from being coerced into making self-incriminating statements by establishing a procedural safeguard against self-incrimination caused by the coercive pressures of interrogation. In the end, Mr. Miranda was killed in a bar fight and his killer was acquitted because he exercised his right to remain silent.

What are the Miranda Rights?

Miranda established the following rights:

  1. You have the right to remain silent.
  2. Anything you say can and will be used against you.
  3. You have the right to an attorney, and to have that attorney present during questioning.
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
  5. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any question or make any statements.

What do the Miranda Rights Mean?

First, you have the right to remain silent means that you do not have to talk. This particular right is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. If you talk, the Miranda rights will not protect you.

Second, anything you say can and will be used against you. If you choose not to remain silent and respond, one wrong word can and will be used as self-incrimination.

Third, you have the right to an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning. This is where you should call an experienced criminal defense trial lawyer. Police are trained in interrogation tactics, and the courts permit law enforcement to lie and use deception tactics in a custodial interview (within reason). In most circumstances, that trickery will not invalidate a confession. However, the courts do not allow police officers to misrepresent a suspect’s legal rights. The attorneys at Delgado & Romanik have the experience to navigate this type of situation.

Fourth, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. This is in reference to the Public Defender.

Finally, at any point, you can choose to stop talking. Even if you have ignored the Miranda warning and chosen to participate in an interrogation, you can still choose to stop participating.

How do you Invoke the Right to an Attorney?

To invoke the right, you must ask for an attorney and it must be unequivocal. After you ask, the interrogation must end. If you are ambiguous when you ask for an attorney, law enforcement can continue to interrogate you. The key is to be clear in your request for an attorney.

Whether a suspect has invoked the right to counsel is an objective inquiry that requires, at a minimum, some statement that can be reasonably construed to be an expression of a desire for the assistance of an attorney. Courts have explained, “[a] statement is either such as assertion [of the right to counsel] or it is not” (Smith v. Illinois, 469 U.S. 91, 97-98 (1984)).

In theory, the objective determination should be self-evident, but under the bright lights of the interrogation room, it becomes complicated. The problem becomes that if a suspect makes an equivocal or ambiguous request for counsel, police officers are not required to stop the interrogation.

Look no further than the “lawyer dog” suspect in Louisiana, which captured national headlines when the defendant argued the following statement unequivocally invoked his right to counsel: “If y’all, this is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog ’cause this is not what’s up.”

The Louisiana Supreme Court disagreed. The Court held the defendant’s statement to be ambiguous and found the reference to a “lawyer dog” did not constitute an invocation of counsel that warranted a termination of the interview.

After re-reading the above, we won’t hold it against you if you cancel your next trip to Louisiana. But before you give up hope, let’s look at how Florida courts, and specifically our Fifth District Court of Appeal, interpret invocations of counsel. Recently in Daniel v. State (2018 WL 1526300 (Fla. 5th DCA March 29, 2018)), the Fifth District Court of Appeal explained that the following statements are unequivocal requests for a lawyer:

  • Can I make a phone call so I can get a lawyer?
  • I can’t make a phone call or nothing, no?
  • I should be able to talk to a lawyer.
  • Can I have a lawyer?
  • Well can I have a lawyer then?
  • Can I get a lawyer?

However, these statements did not constitute invocations of counsel:

  • I mean if I am being held and I’m being charged with something, I need to be on the phone calling my lawyer.
  • I think I might want to talk to an attorney.
  • Do I need a lawyer?
  • Suspect wanted to speak “to his mother, his attorney, and Detective Parker.”

Experienced Attorneys on Your Side

If you are being interrogated about a crime, you should immediately request an attorney as you may be a suspect in an investigation. Here at Delgado & Romanik, we have fought to protect our clients’ rights during interrogations and in all following phases of litigation. We are familiar with the problems that can arise in the interrogation room and will fight to protect your rights from investigations through trial.

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