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Your Miranda Rights: What Do They Really Mean and When Do They Apply?

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Your Miranda Rights: What Do They Really Mean and When Do They Apply?

Handcuffs“You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?”

These are your iconic Miranda rights. If you’ve watched television in the last 50 years, you’ve heard at least a portion of these rights before. But do you know what they mean? Do you know when they apply? Do you know when the police have to read them to you? If you’re like most people, then you think you know the answers to these questions, but you probably have a few misconceptions. It is important for you to clear up these misconceptions, especially if you were recently arrested for a drug crime, domestic violence, or any other type of crime in Mercer County, New Jersey.

What You Need to Know About Miranda Rights in New Jersey

First, you need to understand that the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitutions guarantees you the right to remain silent. More specifically, it states that you cannot be compelled in any criminal prosecution to be a witness against yourself. This includes statements made outside of court, such as in a police interrogation, and in court, which is what we mean when we say we are “pleading the Fifth.” That being said, while you cannot be FORCED to give a statement to police or make incriminating statements against yourself in court, if you choose to do so, then those words can be used to prosecute you.

Second, the 6th Amendment guarantees you the right to the assistance of counsel, i.e., a lawyer. You have that right throughout all stages of any criminal case, from interrogation and arrest through trial and all appeals.

So, when do these rights apply? The answer is simple. They ALWAYS apply. You never have to answer any police questioning about anything that would incriminate you. You always have the right to have an attorney. The problem is, the police are not always required to tell you that you have these rights, which may create the false impression in some people that you don’t have the rights until a certain point in an investigation. So, the question becomes, when are the police required to read you your rights? If you just mentally answered this question by thinking “when they arrest me,” keep reading, because that’s the wrong answer.

Television shows and movies have conditioned us to believe that the moment the cops slap the cuffs on you, you have to be informed of your rights under Miranda, but that’s not the case. In fact, the police only have to inform you of your Miranda rights if they are engaging in CUSTODIAL INTERROGATION. What does that mean? There are obviously two parts to it. First, you have to be in custody, but custody doesn’t necessarily only mean when you are handcuffed and taken to the police station or jail. The United States Supreme Court has interpreted “custody” to mean if you are either not free to leave, or if a reasonable person would not feel free to leave. The second part is interrogation. When we think of interrogation, we usually picture a detective sitting across from a suspect seated at a metal table with a bare light bulb swinging overhead while the detective grills the suspect about some crime he thinks the suspect committed. But in reality, interrogation means any statement or question by the police that is designed to elicit an incriminating answer. It could be “where did you hide the body?” or it could be something like “that poor little kid’s parents are never going to have a body to bury,” and the statement doesn’t even have to be made directly to the suspect. It only has to be made in his presence with the aim of eliciting an incriminating statement.

Should you exercise your rights? In a word, YES. Maybe the police have a case against you, and maybe they don’t, but you are better off not saying anything than making any statement, especially without an attorney present. If the police want to speak with you about an investigation, you should always tell the officer or detective that you want to consult with an attorney and refuse to answer any questions until you do so.

Contact an Experienced Trenton Criminal Defense Attorney to Discuss Your Arrest and Criminal Charges in NJ

Were you arrested in New Jersey? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly resulting in significant prison time. That is why you should talk to a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately and explore your legal options. The attorney at the Law Offices of Lauren E. Scardella has successfully represented clients charged with a crime or DWI offense in Trenton, Hamilton, Robbinsville, West Windsor, and throughout New Jersey. Call (609) 587-1144 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a free consultation today. We have an office conveniently located at 2653 Nottingham Way STE 1, Hamilton Township, NJ 08619.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.