Ask MC – Miranda Rights

This week’s Ask MC is brought to you by a reader on my Facebook page, Nancy Harper.  She asks the following:

I’d like to get your opinion on something. I’m not being snarky, this is an issue for debate that was brought up by a podcast I listen to. (The podcast was How Miranda Rights Work by Stuff You Should Know if you want to listen to it.) Here’s my question: The police only have to read you your Miranda rights if they take you into custody. Technically, a traffic stop is not considered custody so they don’t have to advise you of your Miranda rights. BUT – you can’t just leave a traffic stop (officers tend to frown on that) so technically you’re in custody – so should people be read their rights?

The short answer is no.  And your statement regarding the necessity of police to read someone their Miranda rights if they’re taken into custody is also incorrect.

What?!?!  Yup…Law & Order has forever ruined people’s perceptions of what is actually required for Miranda.

I won’t bore you with citing cases and all that legal jargon.  The bottom line is that Miranda rights are required when two things exist: Custody and Interrogation.

Custody

This is Miranda Kerr.  This is not the Miranda we are discussing.  But she is way hotter.  You're welcome.

This is Miranda Kerr. This is not the Miranda we are discussing. But she is way hotter. You’re welcome.

This exists when you are not free to leave and/or a reasonable person in the same situation would believe themselves to be under arrest.  A traffic stop does not rise to that level because 98% of the population (a number I reached through a study I didn’t actually conduct) knows that although they aren’t free to leave, they are not under arrest.

More often than not, custody will be seen by a reasonable person when an individual is handcuffed and/or put in the back of a patrol car.  Believe it or not, there have been instances in which someone is questioned in a police station and not been read their Miranda rights because they felt that they were, in fact, free to leave.

Interrogation

This is simply when you ask someone a question.  There is an important distinction between investigative questioning and an interrogation.  For example, on a traffic stop, I can ask you questions regarding DUI if I believe you are under the influence.  Once I put the metal bracelets on, though, if I want to continue questioning you, then I am required to notify you of your Miranda rights.

So, again, there are two prongs to the Miranda requirement.  You must believe you are under arrest and I have to ask you questions.  I don’t always read someone their rights if I am not going to ask them questions because there is no necessity.

I know this is a pretty simplified explanation of Miranda, but a lot of times folks make things more convoluted then they need to.

I blame Hollywood.

And lawyers.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

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