When you hear a TV or movie law enforcement officer read someone their rights after arresting them, this is not just some script writer’s words coming out of the actor’s mouth. They are, rather, the Miranda warning that all officers must give to all people they arrest.
FindLaw lists the four Miranda elements as follows:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
The Miranda warning gets its name from the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona in which the Justices first enumerated these rights. The Court, however, held that officers must only tell suspects of these rights once they arrest them, not before. Nevertheless, you actually have these rights any time officers seek to question you regarding an ongoing criminal investigation.
The following three Amendments to the U.S. Constitution guarantee you the rights underlying Miranda:
- The Fourth Amendment guarantees your right against unreasonable searches and seizures by government officials, including seizures of your person, i.e., arrest.
- The Fifth Amendment guarantees your right against self-incrimination.
- The Sixth Amendment guarantees your right to counsel, i.e., an attorney, any time you face criminal prosecution.
Consequently, you are never under any obligation to answer an officer’s questions, except to provide your identification if asked, without having your attorney present. If you unwisely choose to waive these rights by volunteering information to officers, you face a great risk that they and prosecutors may indeed later use this information against you.