If you ever face a situation where a Pennsylvania law enforcement officer seeks to question you about a criminal matter, you need to know about your Miranda rights. You have these rights because of the landmark 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona. Ever since then, law enforcement officers have been required to give the Miranda warning to anyone they arrest.
You may be somewhat familiar with the Miranda warning because it is a staple of movies and TV series about crime and punishment. Basically, the Miranda warning goes like this:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.
What this means is that you never have to answer a police officer’s questions unless and until you have an attorney with you to protect your rights. Bear in mind, however, that law enforcement officers do not have to “read you your rights” until they arrest you.
Your constitutional rights
Your Miranda rights flow from two of the rights you have by virtue of the United States Constitution: your Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate yourself and your Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel whenever you face criminal charges. The problem is that when you know you did not commit a crime, you see no need for an attorney and you cannot imagine that anything you voluntarily tell officers can possibly incriminate you. Unfortunately, your attitude is naive at best and can be self-defeating at worst.
Person of interest
When someone commits a crime and officers do not yet know who committed it, they naturally begin an investigation. If you happened to be at or near the scene of the crime, that makes you a “person of interest.” As such, officers may request that you voluntarily come down to the station and talk to them since you were there and may possess information that could help them in their investigation.
Most people accede to this request because they believe they have nothing to fear and they do not want to appear uncooperative in a police investigation. As a matter of general practice, however, never voluntarily speak to law enforcement officers about a crime or answer their questions without having your attorney present. Why? Because officers are not your friends in such a situation, even if you know them personally and are on a first-name basis with them.
While you may not yet be a suspect in the crime, and officers certainly do not have sufficient evidence against you at this point to arrest you, they know that you could become a suspect depending on the information you voluntarily give them. Remember, since they did not arrest you and you therefore are not in police custody, they do not have to tell you your Miranda rights. This is a very dangerous situation for you to be in, even though you know you did not commit the crime.
Your constitutional and Miranda rights are there to protect you. Do not waive them by voluntarily speaking to law enforcement officers without your attorney present.