As a college or graduate student in the Boston area, you and your friends likely have seen your fair share of “cop shows,” both at the movies and on TV. You therefore probably have heard various iterations of the Miranda warning many times. What may never have occurred to you, however, especially if you have never experienced a run-in with law enforcement officers, is that this warning is for your benefit, too.
The Miranda warning stems from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona back in 1966. It consists of the following four parts:
- 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.
Unfortunately, officers must give you the Miranda warning, i.e., read you your rights, only at the point when they arrest you. Up until then, they do not have to advise you that you need not speak with them and that if you do so voluntarily, they will indeed use anything you say against you, both in terms of developing probable cause to arrest you for whatever crime they think you committed and later in court. Nevertheless, you never have to answer officers’ questions about anything, other than to show them your ID if and when they ask for it. Furthermore, you always have the right to request an attorney before answering any additional questions.
The reason you are never obligated to answer police questions without having your attorney at your side is that the Miranda warning itself stems from two of your most important constitutional rights: your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and your Sixth Amendment right to an attorney.
When law enforcement officers believe that a crime or possible crime has occurred, they immediately begin an investigation to determine if a crime took place and, if so, who committed it. This makes anyone allegedly at or near the scene of the alleged crime a person of interest. If they think you are or may be one of these people, they investigate you, too, often without your knowledge. For instance, officers may ask you to come down to the station and make a statement as to what you might have seen, heard or noticed at the time the alleged crime took place.
Beware. This is precisely the time when officers are not your friends. Speaking to them without the advice, counsel and presence of an experienced criminal defense attorney is a mistake, and certainly not in your best interests.
Depending on the nature of the crime that the authorities are investigating and which jurisdiction, federal or state, it falls under, you may learn that they are investigating you if one of the following happens:
- You get a phone call from a state or federal agent.
- Officers search your home, car or dorm room.
- You learn that one of your friends and/or fellow classmates is under investigation.
- You get a subpoena to appear at a grand jury hearing.
- You get a letter telling you that law enforcement officials are investigating you.
Now you definitely need to contact a skilled, experienced criminal defense attorney. (S)he may well be able to head off potential problems that could otherwise become major hurdles down the road.