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What is a "Miranda warning"?

Most people who are fans of television police shows have heard the term "Miranda warning," but few know what the term means or where it comes from. Even fewer understand its legal significance. The Miranda warning is an integral part of police procedure and is used by virtually every police department in Pennsylvania and the United States. It gets its name and meaning from a United States Supreme Court decision that is now almost 50 years old.

The case is known as Miranda v. Arizona. The case actually involves four separate cases in which criminal defendants were held in police custody and interrogated until they confessed to committing crimes. The confessions were introduced at the four trials and all defendants were convicted. On appeal, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that forever changed police interrogation methods.

The Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that a person who is interrogated while being held in police custody must be told the following:

  1. The defendant has the right to remain silent;
  2. Anything the defendant says may be used in a court of law;
  3. The defendant is entitled to have an attorney present while being interrogated; and
  4. If the defendant cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed and paid for at the state's expense.

These four requirements are usually referred to as the defendant's Miranda rights. If a defendant does not receive a proper Miranda warning, any information obtained by police during interrogations will generally be excluded at trial.

In effect, the failure of the police to give a Miranda warning may conceivably lead to an acquittal because necessary evidence will be ruled inadmissible. Anyone accused of a crime may wish to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney for an evaluation of the case. A knowledgeable attorney can also provide advice on the adequacy of a Miranda warning and the likelihood that any police failure to warn can be used to obtain a favorable plea agreement or an outright acquittal.

Source: FindLaw, '"Miranda" Rights and the Fifth Amendment,' accessed on July 11, 2016

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