Everyone even remotely familiar with the American legal system knows that the police have to give suspects in a crime notice -- before they are interrogated -- that whatever they say can be used against them in court. They are also required to remind suspects that they have a right against self-incrimination and the legal right to have an attorney even if they can't afford private counsel.
These are called the "Miranda" rights after the famous Supreme Court case with that name back in 1966. That case made sweeping changes to the way that police handled their everyday encounters with suspected criminals.
However, most people -- even those who watch a lot of police dramas on TV -- don't really understand when the police are actually required to give a Miranda warning or what danger they are in before they hear it. Those misunderstandings can really hurt you if you're ever unfortunate enough to be the focus of a police investigation.
This is what you should know about Miranda warnings:
1. The police are under no obligation to give you a Miranda warning until you are officially in police custody and under interrogation. Police officers have learned to use this aspect of the law to their advantage.
2. The key words are "under interrogation." An officer can arrest you without giving you a Miranda warning and the arrest is still valid. If you say voluntarily say something incriminating after the arrest, it can still be used in court against you.
3. Police will often ask people to voluntarily come into the station to talk about a case. They make a point of letting people know they are free to leave at any time. Many people relax, believing that they would have to hear the Miranda warning for anything they say to be used against them. Once they relax, people talk. They only realize the damage they've done to themselves once the handcuffs get pulled out.
Hopefully, this is information you'll never need to use. However, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you think you may need a criminal defense attorney to help you, it's wiser to stay silent until after you talk to that attorney -- whether you've heard a Miranda warning or not.
Source: FindLaw, "'Miranda Rights' and the Fifth Amendment," accessed Dec. 21, 2017