Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
I recently wrote an article about how the Miranda Warning had come to be when a man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested and convicted for the rape of a mentally handicapped eighteen year old woman in 1963. His lawyer said in court that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated after being questioned for the better part of three hours. Supreme Justice Earl Warren wrote the Miranda Warning in 1966.
Now, we all know the words to the Miranda Warning, thanks to pop culture but do we know what they really mean and what protections we have under the Miranda Warning? Not many of us do. As a matter of fact, I took a five question test and got two of the questions wrong, which isn’t bad, but, it could have been if I had been arrested and didn’t know what my rights meant.
The Fifth Amendment supplies us with right against “self-incrimination.” We in no way, shape, or form, are compelled to be a witness against ourselves. Simply put, we have no duty to confess to a crime whether we perpetrated it or not. Ernesto Miranda was found to have had his rights violated and his conviction was over turned. However, he was found guilty later on when new evidence surfaced.
In order to invoke your right remain silent, you have to say that you are invoking this right. In 2010, a man named Van Chester Thompkins was interrogated for three hours by police without saying a word the whole time until the end of the interrogation when a policeman finally asked him if he had prayed to God to forgive him for the shooting he was suspected of, Thompkins replied, “Yes.” In a controversial ruling by the Supreme Court, the majority ruled that his off-hand comment was not protected by Miranda, simply because he he never said he was invoking his right to remain silent.
Miranda rights are meant, in part, to protect you from coercive interrogation techniques. However, do you when you are actually being interrogated? It’s not when a police officer talks to you or even when an officer questions you, it is when an officer questions you while you are in custody. An interrogation refers directly to police questioning a suspect while that suspect is in custody. This was handed down by the Supreme Court in the case of a man named Thomas Innis who was arrested for robbing a taxi driver at gunpoint. He apparently had ditched the weapon somewhere and he overheard two policemen talking to each other about their fears of mentally disabled children in the area finding the gun. After hearing this, Innis told the police where they could find the weapon. The Supreme Court ruled the shotgun was admissible because the statement was declared “spontaneous” and not technically part of the “interrogation.” Remember, keep your mouth shut while in custody.
No matter how serious the crime is that one is being arrested for, this person still has his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, however there is a public safety addendum added to the Miranda Warning in 1984. It concerns situations where there may be an immediate threat to the public. In New York vs. Quarles, a man was arrested and had an empty shoulder on. The police asked him where the gun was and he told them. Since he was not yet given the Miranda Warning, Quarles’ lawyer asked for the gun to be thrown out as evidence in the trial, The Supreme Court ruled that “concern for public safety must be paramount to adherence to the literal language” of the rules set out in the original Miranda Warning. The gun was allowed as evidence.
If you have been arrested and you give up your right to remain silent, it is important for you to know that at anytime during questioning, you can stop answering questions by invoking your Fifth Amendment right. Once you decide to stop answering questions, you tell the officers that and the interrogation must come to a cease. Don’t think that because you started answering questions, you have to continue answering them. You don’t.