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When Must the Police Read Me My Miranda Rights?

Key Takeaways:

  • Police must read you your Miranda rights when arresting you or holding you for custodial interrogation (even if you haven't been charged).
  • Police and prosecutors must continue to respect your Miranda rights throughout an investigation.
  • If you invoke your right to an attorney, interrogations must stop until you have a lawyer present.

Your Miranda rights are some of your most important rights if you are under criminal investigation. Your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney could mean the difference between prison and freedom.

However, law enforcement does not have to read Miranda rights (also known as “Mirandize”) to you before asking any and every question. If you believe that you are a potential suspect in a crime, then it may be wise to politely decline to answer questions, at least until after talking to a criminal defense lawyer.

What Are Miranda Rights?

Miranda rights are a criminal law concept. Also known as the Miranda rule or the Miranda warning, when you are arrested in the U.S., police officers must warn you that:

  • You have the right to remain silent
  • Anything you say could be used against you in a court of law
  • You have the right to contact a lawyer
  • A lawyer will be appointed before any questioning if you cannot afford to hire one

Your Miranda rights stem from the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects you from self-incrimination.

If they fail to issue the Miranda warning when it’s required, any evidence gained during the questioning becomes inadmissible during a criminal case. However, that doesn’t mean your case will be dropped altogether if there is other evidence.

The warning became a national police requirement in the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, when the court ruled that such rights were part of an arrestee’s constitutional rights.

How Do My Miranda Rights Protect Me?

After reading you your Miranda rights when you are arrested, police and prosecutors must respect your Miranda rights throughout an investigation. Once you invoke your right to remain silent or your right to counsel, all custodial interrogations must stop until your attorney is present. A law enforcement officer can’t make you answer questions or sign anything without your lawyer present.

If police threaten you, refuse to stop persistent questioning, or use other means of coercion, your lawyer can likely use that in your defense in court. However, if the officer simply neglects to read you the Miranda warning but does nothing else, any information you volunteer to police could still potentially be used against you in court.

Do Police Have To Wait Until I Have An Attorney Present Before They Question Me?

No. Police can question you without an attorney present as long as:

  • The questioning is investigatory
  • You have not been formally charged
  • You believe you are free to go at any time

The Miranda warning is usually given when you are arrested, though your Miranda rights attach during any “custodial interrogation” (when you are not free to leave) even if you haven’t been formally arrested.

However, the police do not have to advise you of your Miranda rights before asking any and every question. If you are not in police custody, a Miranda warning isn’t required, and anything you say can be used at trial if you are later charged with a crime.

This exception most often comes up when the police stop people on the street to ask questions about a recent crime or when someone blurts out a confession before police can deliver the warning. In short, it’s wise to politely decline to answer questions without talking to a lawyer first.

Being Questioned vs Being Interrogated

If you feel you are free to go, you are present of your own free will and you have not been charged, you are probably being questioned in a non-custodial environment.

On the other hand, if you have been arrested, if you have been detained and do not feel you are free to leave, or if you have been given your Miranda rights, you are likely legally in police custody and are therefore being interrogated.

Any statements you make during a custodial interrogation can be used against you as long as the police read you your Miranda rights and you waive the right to keep silent or have an attorney present. However, statements you make in response to non-custodial police questioning can still be used against you if the Miranda warning hasn’t been given because Miranda rights only attach to custodial interrogations. In short: if you walk up to a police officer on the street and make incriminating statements, they can arrest you, and that confession can be used against you.

If you believe that police have violated your Miranda rights, you should contact a criminal defense attorney. They will be able to assess and if possible, use the violation in your defense.

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