Honorable Mention – Brandon Legal Group’s Legal Scholarship.
While this essay was not a winner of our Legal Scholarship it was one of the only to speak to topic of Miranda Rights. We offer it to our readers as an Honorable Mention, and thank Sabryna Raymond of St. Thomas University, School of Law (JD Program).
Before reading this essay, it is important to note that this is NOT written or endorsed by Brandon Legal Group, and does not represent legal advice. The following document is a submission for our Legal Scholarship program, and is presented here only as an “honorable mention”.
For many individuals, the only understanding that they have of their Miranda rights comes from movies and television programs like Law and Order. However, its portrayal in mainstream media does not accurately convey the significance of these rights and its proper execution. When the Miranda v. Arizona case was first adjudicated, the court held that the government needed to inform arrested individuals of their fifth amendment rights, which includes: their right to remain silent; a statement stating that anything they say could be used against them in court; their right to counsel; and their right to have counsel appointed if necessary. Since this landmark case, our understanding of these rights has drastically evolved.
The fifth amendment protects individuals against compelled self-incrimination ensuring that anything a respondent says is a product of free speech. Every encounter with the police, however, does not necessitate the recitation of the Miranda rights. An officer is only required to recite the Miranda rights when a respondent has been placed in custodial interrogation. An individual must be subjected to both custody and interrogation in order to trigger the warnings. Custody occurs when an individual does not feel free to terminate the encounter. For instance, Officer Friendly may approach Cindy in the coffee shop and ask her few questions. If Cindy feels free to terminate that encounter, then it would follow that she has not been placed in custody. Whereas, interrogation occurs where law enforcement agents ask express questions or the functional equivalent of that to illicit incriminating responses from the respondent. Interrogation must reflect a measure of compulsion above and beyond that inherent in custody itself. The rationale for the fifth amendment is that individuals may feel an informal pressure to speak in a police dominated environment and these Miranda rights serve as protections against compelled speech.
Once the Miranda warnings have been recited, the respondent has the option to either invoke or waive their rights. When an individual has decided to invoke one of their rights, it must be done unambiguously, meaning that it must be a clear invocation. The officer does not function as the respondent’s legal advisor and is therefore not required to clarify whether the individual has invoked their rights. If an individual has invoked their rights to remain silent, the officer has a duty to scrupulously honor the respondent’s right as established in Michigan v. Mosley. The court held that there are several factors used to determine whether an officer has scrupulously honored the respondent’s rights, specifically: did the questions cease immediately upon invocation of the right; the length of time following the interrogation; whether another officer performed the interrogation; has the respondent been re-mirandized? Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96 (1975). There is no bright line test to determine the length of time before reinitiating questioning, but it is a factor considered. In contrast, once an individual has invoked their right to counsel, questions must cease immediately and cannot resume until counsel is present. An invocation of counsel essentially states that an individual does not feel strong enough to endure questioning on their own. Any evidence gained in violation of the respondent’s Miranda rights can be excluded. However, if the respondent waives their rights, it must be done voluntarily, intelligently, and knowingly.
Since its inception, judicial interpretations of these rights have developed many exceptions. Once a respondent has been placed in custodial interrogation, they must be mirandized, but there are instances where the recitation of the Miranda rights are not required. The public safety exception states that Miranda warnings can be suspended for the limited purpose of public safety, and the questions can only be about the public’s safety. The officer is not permitted to ask about the merits of the crime, such as ‘why did you shoot him,’ but he is permitted to ask ‘where is the gun.’ Miranda warnings are also not required when the suspect is unaware that he is speaking to a law enforcement officer and makes self-incriminating statements as established in Illinois v. Perkins. The purpose of the Miranda warnings is to protect individuals from self-incrimination experienced from the informal pressures of an interrogation room. As such, an individual does not experience these pressures from voluntary statements made to an undercover agent. Additionally, an individual can waive their Miranda rights not only through express statements but also implicitly from their behavior. The implied behavior functions only after the respondent has been informed of their rights and understands them. The respondent does have the option to invoke their rights at a later a time and is not limited to the initial waiver.
With cases like Illinois v. Perkins and New York v. Quarles, these rights that we were initially afforded are being weakened providing officers with more discretion in interrogating defendants.