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Your Right to Remain Silent

Under the law, the Miranda warning, also referred to as Miranda rights or Miranda rule, is a right to silence warning given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody or in a custodial interrogation before they are interrogated to preserve the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings. The Miranda warning is part of a preventive criminal procedure rule that law enforcement are required to administer to protect an individual who is in custody and subject to direct questioning or its functional equivalent from a violation of his or her Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination.

Miranda Rights were created in 1966 as a result of the United States Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. The Miranda warning is intended to protect the suspect’s Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer self-incriminating questions.

It is important to note that Miranda rights do not go into effect until after an arrest is made. The officer is free to ask questions before an arrest, but must inform the suspect that the questioning is voluntary and that he or she is free to leave at any time. The answers to these questions are admissible in court.

If the suspect is placed under arrest and not read Miranda rights, spontaneous or voluntary statements may be used in evidence in court.

In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court held that the admission of an elicited incriminating statement by a suspect not informed of these rights violates the Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, through the incorporation of these rights into state law. Thus, if law enforcement officials decline to offer a Miranda warning to an individual in their custody, they may interrogate that person and act upon the knowledge gained, but may not use that person’s statements as evidence against him or her in a criminal trial.

In the case of NEW YORK v. QUARLES, 467 U.S. 649 (1984) Respondent was charged in a New York state court with criminal possession of a weapon. The record showed that a woman approached two police officers who were on road patrol, told them that she had just been raped, described her assailant, and told them that the man had just entered a nearby supermarket and was carrying a gun. While one of the officers radioed for assistance, the other (Officer Kraft) entered the store and spotted respondent, who matched the description given by the woman. Respondent ran toward the rear of the store, and Officer Kraft pursued him with a drawn gun but lost sight of him for several seconds. Upon regaining sight of respondent, Officer Kraft ordered him to stop and put his hands over his head; frisked him and discovered that he was wearing an empty shoulder holster; and, after handcuffing him, asked him where the gun was. Respondent nodded toward some empty cartons and responded that “the gun is over there.” Officer Kraft then retrieved the gun from one of the cartons, formally arrested respondent, and read him his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 . Respondent indicated that he would answer questions without an attorney being present and admitted that he owned the gun and had purchased it in Florida. The trial court excluded respondent’s initial statement and the gun because the respondent had not yet been given the Miranda warnings, and also excluded respondent’s other statements as evidence tainted by the Miranda violation. Both the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Court held that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the exclusion of respondent’s initial statement and the gun because of Officer Kraft’s failure to read respondent his Miranda rights before attempting to locate the weapon. Accordingly, it also erred in affirming the exclusion of respondent’s subsequent statements as illegal fruits of the Miranda violation. This case presents a situation where concern for public safety must be paramount to adherence to the literal language of the prophylactic rules enunciated in Miranda.

Although criminal respondent was in police custody when he made his statements and the facts come within the ambit of Miranda, nevertheless on these facts there is a “public safety” exception to the requirement that Miranda warnings be given before a suspect’s answers may be admitted into evidence, and the availability of that exception does not depend upon the motivation of the individual officers involved. The doctrinal underpinnings of Miranda do not require that it be applied in all its rigor to a situation in which police officers ask questions reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety. In this case, as long as the gun was concealed somewhere in the supermarket, it posed more than one danger to the public safety: an accomplice might make use of it, or a customer or employee might later come upon it.

The narrow exception to the Miranda rule recognized here will to some degree lessen the desirable clarity of that rule. However, the exception will not be difficult for police officers to apply because in each case it will be circumscribed by the exigency which justifies it. Police officers can and will distinguish almost instinctively between questions necessary to secure their own safety or the safety of the public and questions designed solely to elicit testimonial evidence from a suspect.

We routinely file motions for our clients to obtain hearings to challenge the voluntariness of their statement to the police (this is called a Huntley Hearing). Yet, what role, if any, does sleeplessness or intoxication have on one’s ability to voluntarily give a statement to the police even if you, the accused, believe you are giving a voluntary statement. In other words, does sleeplessness or intoxication negate an otherwise voluntary admission?

A Supreme Court judge sitting in the Criminal Term in Brooklyn (Kings County) New York just dealt with this particular issue as to whether drug use and a lack of sleep could render an otherwise voluntary statement involuntary. In People v. Jeanine Harrington, decided in July 2009, the court found that “the mere fact that a confession is made under such circumstance does not necessarily render the admission inadmissible. It is a factor to be considered in determining whether the confession was, in fact, the product of a rational intellect and a free will.” In this particular case the defendant admitted to smoking crack and DWI being up all night. Even during the interview the defendant fell asleep. That being said, the defendant may have been “strung out,” but was consistent in her answers, did not request that questions be repeated and appeared aware at the time of her questioning.

Although the decision rendered by the court was not analyzed extensively from a legal perspective, it did give genuine insight into the fact that intoxication and sleep deprivation may not render your statement involuntary. The lesson any accused person should take from this case is that instead of regretting what you said and trying to legitimately fight the admissibility of your admission after the fact, it is a “wiser” move to consult with a DWI attorney beforehand. In the event you are unable to do so, asking to speak with an attorney will legally prevent the prosecution or police from questioning you further.

While each case requires its own unique analysis as the best way to protect an accused’s rights and liberty, one thing is consistent across all cases. Retaining experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers, seek the help of a New York Criminal Defense Attorney and New York Order of Protection Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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