Like most people who watch television on a regular basis, you probably know and can recite the warnings police read when placing someone under arrest that begin: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
As familiar as people are with the so-called “Miranda warnings,” few of them realize that not advising a defendant of them does not automatically result in police letting a person go or courts dismissing a pending criminal charge.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1966 that incriminating statements made by a person while in police custody could not be used by prosecutors to prove that the person charged with a crime was guilty. The Court’s decision changed forever the way police in Kentucky, Tennessee, and throughout the country handle arrests. Advising suspects of their right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution became standard procedure in law enforcement agencies.
Police must advise you of your constitutional rights once you are in custody and before questioning or interrogation takes place. Questions may be asked of you without warnings being given, and your statements used against you to obtain a criminal conviction, as long as you are not in police custody.
Even if you are in custody, a self-incriminating statement that you voluntarily blurt out may be used against you during a criminal trial as long as it was not made in response to questioning by the police according to the Supreme Court’ ruling
Criminal defense strategies might include a motion asking a judge to prevent prosecutors from using a statement during the criminal trial to obtain a criminal conviction. Exclusion of the statement does not necessarily mean that the criminal charges will be dismissed if prosecutors have other evidence they can use to prove the allegations.
The rules pertaining to the use of incriminating statements by the prosecution at a criminal trial are complex and subject to continuous interpretation by the courts. For example, what is defined as being in custody can vary due to specific circumstances, as can what constitutes a self-incriminating statement.
The information contained in this post is not offered as legal advice, which should only be given by an attorney who has thoroughly reviewed the facts specific to a particular person and situation.