Georgia residents have seen it constantly in television shows and movies: the cops have finally got their suspect, and as they’re placing the cuffs on the suspect they begin the mantra “You have the right to remain silent…” This beginning phrase is, with slight variations, used across the country by law enforcement to “read a suspect his rights.” But, why do the police do this, and what does it mean?
The name of the case from which this all stems is likely familiar to most people: Miranda v. Arizona. In fact, it has become so ubiquitous that a verb has been created out of the case name: to “Mirandize” someone is to warn the person of the right to remain silent and have an attorney. The actual case in question was decided in 1966, and actually was an amalgam of four cases decided together. In the lead case, a man was convicted of kidnapping and rape on the basis of a confession he gave to police after two hours of questioning after his arrest. The man challenged his conviction, and the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision, overturned it.
The basis for overturning the conviction was that that the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from “self-incrimination,” and that this right extends beyond the walls of a formal courtroom. While the case didn’t specifically require the exact warning most of us know today, it did say that the state needed to prove that a suspect who is “in custody” is aware of his rights before giving a confession. The “Miranda warnings” we think of were perhaps the easiest way for law enforcement and prosecutors to meet that burden, giving them a set procedure to follow.
It is important for Georgia residents who are charged with a crime to understand what this means. First, not being given Miranda warnings is not a “get out of jail free” card. If challenged properly it may lead to statements by a defendant being inadmissible in court, but does not affect other evidence. Second, for Miranda warnings to apply, the person must be “in the custodial control” of police. This can be a complicated issue, but suffice to say not every person questioned by law enforcement must be given these warnings.
Many times, especially in cases involving drug crimes, police rely on various suspects to turn on each other, implicating themselves in the process. Those facing such charges in Georgia, especially the felony type such as those involving intent to distribute, should remember that they generally have the right to speak with an attorney before saying anything to police.