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What are 'Miranda rights'?

Most people in Pennsylvania have heard of "Miranda warnings" or "Miranda rights." Nonetheless, very few people understand the meaning of these terms or their importance in the legal system.

The terms come from the historic United States Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona, decided in 1966. The Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment provides certain protections to persons accused of a crime, before the police can ask them questions. As soon as the person is in custody, the police must provide certain information to the accused:

  • The accused has the right to remain silent;
  • Statements by the accused can and will be used against him in a criminal trial;
  • The accused has the right to be talk to and be represented by an attorney; and
  • If the accused cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to act on his or her behalf.

If a person confesses to the crime before being told of his "Miranda rights," the confession cannot be used in court. Moreover, any evidence found by the police as the result of information obtained from such a confession cannot be used in court. All police officers are trained and required to provide a proper Miranda warning during the course of an arrest.

Most experienced criminal defense attorneys will ask a client whether he or she was given the proper Miranda warning. Occasionally, police will omit the warning or provide a garbled version that does not adequately inform the accused of his constitutional rights. This information can be an important part of preparing a defense to the charges at hand and should be provided to the attorney at the first meeting.

Source: Findlaw.com, "'Miranda' Rights and the Fifth Amendment," accessed on Sept. 3, 2014

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