The Miranda Rights
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees everyone the right to remain silent, if speech might connect the speaker to a crime. However, while everyone is given the constitutional right against self-incrimination, not every citizen is aware of this right. To prevent the abuses that can result from this knowledge gap, in the 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona the Supreme Court determined that anyone taken into police custody must be immediately informed of their Fifth Amendment rights.
This ruling set a very important precedent in American criminal law. The Miranda Rights, as they've come to be known, require police to say four things to anyone who's being arrested:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
The police must read or recite the Miranda rights during an arrest, or immediately before questioning at the very latest. Failing to do this will make legally render all of a suspects statements "involuntary," and thus useless in a court of law.
To give a fairly extreme example, let's say that A is arrested and questioned about the mugging and robbing of B, but the police neglect to read A his Miranda rights. Even if A confesses to the crime and tells the police where he hid B's wallet (which the police then retrieve), A's attorney will very likely be successful when he pleads before the court that A's confession was unlawful and unconstitutional. Given that the plea is successful, the evidence that A's confession presents will have to be thrown out, most likely along with the evidence of B's wallet, and the trial must continue as though those pieces of evidence didn't exist (a very awkward situation for everyone involved).