Know Your Rights: The Truth behind Miranda Warnings

Under Miranda, before questioning suspects in custody, law enforcement officials must inform suspects that: (1) they have the right to remain silent; (2) their statements may be used against them at trial; (3) they have the right to the presence of an attorney during questioning; and (4) if they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them. There are no other additional warnings required under the rule. Generally speaking, Miranda warnings are not required where the individual makes statements during a consensual encounter. Miranda warnings are only required when an individual is both 1. in custody, and 2. Subject to government interrogation. Both of these elements are required before Miranda warnings must be given. The discussion below will explain what is meant by both "in custody" and "under interrogation." 

The Courts have long discussed when Miranda warnings are necessary, and have determined that for a defendant to be entitled to Miranda warnings one of the elements that must be proven is that the defendant was in custody at the time the defendant is claiming a violation of his Miranda rights. In determining whether a suspect is in custody, "the ultimate inquiry is simply whether there is a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest." Roman v. State, 475 So. 2d 1228, 1231 (Fla. 1985). This inquiry is approached from a prospective of how a reasonable person would have perceived the situation." Id. Thus, an objective, rather than subjective, standard would be used to determine whether the suspect was in custody. Generally, there are four factors that the Florida Supreme Court has recognized for determining whether a reasonable person would consider himself or herself in custody. They are: “(1) the way the police summoned the suspect; (2) the purpose, place and manner of the interrogation; (3) the degree to which the officer confronted the suspect with the evidence; and (4) whether officers told the suspect her or she was free to leave."  In addition,  “A policeman's unarticulated plan has no bearing on the question of whether a suspect was ‘in custody’ at a particular time; the only relevant inquiry is how a reasonable man in the suspect's position would have understood his situation.” Id. To explain this concept further, the Supreme Court in Beheler and Mathiason found that a station house interrogation did not constitute the suspect being in custody for purposes of requiring Miranda warnings due to the facts that, 1. the defendants in Beheler and Mathiason were “specifically informed that they were not under arrest, the questioning in those cases lasted thirty minutes, and the defendants were allowed to leave after making their statements, although the were ultimately charged with the crimes being investigated.” Analyzing why these defendants were not considered to be “in custody,” the basis of the decision of the Supreme Court hinges on the fact that a reasonable person could not expect to be considered “in custody” when they were informed by the officers that they were not under arrest, therefore allowing them to leave at anytime should they want to. But, the court goes further in finding that a since the questioning took place at a stationhouse, that being told they are not under arrest is not dispositive, but only a factor. The Court also looked at the time factor, but held that thirty minutes was not unreasonable and would not have contributed to a perception of custody, stating “Any interview of one suspected of a crime by a police officer will have coercive aspects to it, simply by virtue of the fact that the police officer is part of a law enforcement system which may ultimately cause the suspect to be charged with a crime. But police officers are not required to administer Miranda warnings to everyone whom they question. Nor is the requirement of warnings to be imposed simply because the questioning takes place in the station house, or because the questioned person is one whom the police suspect. Miranda warnings are required only where there has been such a restriction on a person’s freedom as to render him “in custody.”

As to the second element, “under interrogation,” the courts have defined what this means as well. Miranda applied and extends protection only to those individuals who, while in custody, are interrogated by persons they know are acting on behalf of the government. The Supreme Court in Rhode Island v. Innis defined “interrogation” as “express questioning or its functional equivalent. R.I. v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300-01 (1980). The functional equivalent of interrogation consists of “words or actions on the part of the police ... that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.” Id. “Psychological ploys” designed to elicit incriminating responses may also constitute interrogation. Id. But, many other situations involving questioning are not considered interrogation and therefore do not require Miranda warnings. To be more specific, routine booking questions, routine border questioning, general on-the-scene questioning, official questioning at a meeting requested by a suspect, and questioning by private individuals on their own initiative normally do not constitute interrogation requiring Miranda warnings.

Although this is just a brief introduction to Miranda warnings, it is imperative that you understand your legal rights. If you ever find yourself being questioned by law enforcement officials, simply articulate that you would like to speak with your lawyer before answering any questions. Once you invoke your right to an attorney, all questioning must cease and if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Sirounis Law, -Dedicated, Experienced, Results- Call now for your FREE CONSULTATION and to discuss your legal rights: 407-734-5050.