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Felonies: what is the Miranda warning and when is it used?

The phrase "Miranda warning" is known to most residents of Massachusetts, but the exact meaning of the phrase is often unclear. The phrase refers to the title of a famous United States Supreme Court ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, decided in 1966. The case turned on whether local police properly and clearly informed Mr. Miranda of his right to remain silent during a police interrogation for allegedly committing a felony.

The right of a criminal defendant to remain silent when questioned by police has been recognized for about 800 years, since the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. In Miranda, the Court held that the police were constitutionally required to advise the suspect of his right to remain silent and his right to be represented by counsel. Not every person questioned by police is entitled to a Miranda warning. A person questioned as a witness and not for purposes of imposing custody is not entitled to receive the warning. People being questioned in connection with a traffic stop are not entitled to the privilege during preliminary questioning.

A person can waive his or her Miranda rights if the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently. The police must ensure that the person being questioned understands the warning and that any waiver is clearly expressed. Mere silence in response to a question does not constitute a valid waiver. In order to assert Miranda rights, the subject of interrogation must assert the privilege verbally and unambiguously.

Whether or not a Miranda warning has been properly given or properly waived can often involve careful factual analysis, including determining whether the suspect is fluent in the language used to provide the waiver and whether police used any form of intimidation to encourage the suspect to waive his Miranda rights. Anyone facing serious criminal charges may wish to learn more about the Miranda warning or any alleged waiver of the privileges it entails.

Source: Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, "The Rights of a Person Who Is Arrested," Hon. Peter Agnes, Jr., accessed on May 12, 2018

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