The police didn't give you a Miranda warning: Now what?

If you have even a passing understanding of how the American criminal justice system works, you've heard of a Miranda warning. The statement that begins, "You have the right to remain silent..." is heard on countless television shows and considered an important protection for criminal defendants.

What if the police officer who arrested you for drug trafficking or some other charge didn't "Mirandize" you first? Does that matter?

Probably not. There are some significant exceptions to the Miranda rule that the authorities can exploit to their advantage. Miranda warnings have to be given when a defendant (or suspect) is both in police custody and being interrogated. That leaves plenty of room for situations that don't apply.

For example:

  • The police do not have to give a Miranda warning when making an arrest. Although you are in police custody, an arrest does not equal interrogation. (They're free to note, however, that anything you might say during that time.)
  • The police do not have to give a Miranda warning before asking you questions prior to an arrest. As long as you're not under arrest and allegedly "free to go," an officer can ask you all kinds of questions (and you're free not to answer them).
  • The police can use an undercover agent or private citizen as an informant to ask you questions. (Do not believe the old myth that undercover agents have to identify themselves if asked.) Since you aren't aware that you're being questioned by the police, statements to informants and undercover agents are considered "uncoerced."
  • There's a public safety issue or emergency and police see your interrogation as necessary to prevent a catastrophe.
  • You're simply being asked routine questions adjacent to your arrest for the purposes of administration or booking.

It's smart to understand your rights -- and the limitations on those rights -- whenever you're interacting with the police. The better you understand your rights, the easier it may be for your attorney to mount a successful defense.

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