GUEST EDITORIAL: Miranda Warnings
by Diane Lozano, Wyoming State Public Defender
October 18, 2009
If you watch any of the crime shows on TV today, you have undoubtedly heard the phrase, "You have a right to remain silent." These rights are called Miranda warnings, and they are the result of the Supreme Court case known as Miranda v. Arizona.
Ernesto Miranda was arrested as a suspect in a kidnapping and rape case. In a line-up, the victim identified him as her attacker. For two hours, officers questioned Mr. Miranda about the attack. He was not told that he did not have to answer the questions, and he was not allowed to call a lawyer. Eventually, Mr. Miranda confessed to the crime and signed a statement that described the details of the attack. When this confession was used in court, Mr. Miranda was found guilty.
The United States Supreme Court overturned this conviction. The Court found that the officers had violated Mr. Mirandaís rights when they questioned him. The rights they had in mind are found in the Constitutionís 5th Amendment, which says people must not be forced to testify against themselves, and the 6th Amendment, which grants the accused person the right to legal counsel.
If you are arrested and the police officer wants to question you about whether or not you committed a crime, he must tell you what your rights are. Those rights include the right to remain silent, which means that you do not have to talk to him or answer any of his questions.
The police officer must also tell you that you have the right to a lawyer. In fact, you have the right to talk to a lawyer before you talk to the police officer. Once you ask for a lawyer, the police officer cannot talk to you again without your lawyer being present. And you have this right whether you have money to pay for a lawyer or not.
You may waive or give up these rights. You can decide to talk to the police officer without an attorney, but anything you say can and will be used against you.
The police officer does not have to tell you what your rights are if you are not under arrest.
These are important fundamental rights that each of us has. If you are handcuffed, are in the back of a police car, or are in a room at the police station, you do not have to talk to anyone. Before you do anything, ask for a lawyer.
If you have any questions about your rights if you are accused of a crime, call your local public defenderís office; we are here to help you.
Author, Diane Lozano, State Public Defender, can be contacted at (307) 777-7519.