New Cases Affecting Your Miranda Rights

Everyone has heard of Miranda rights. Anyone familiar with American television or movies has no doubt heard them intoned by actors playing police officers in crime dramas:

  • You have the right to remain silent
  • Your statements might be used against you in a court of law
  • You have the right to an attorney
  • The court can appoint a lawyer for you if you cannot afford one

These rights arise from a case called Miranda v. Arizona in 1966, where the United States Supreme Court held that police cannot question citizens without first informing them of their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves.

Conflicting interpretations

In the nearly 50 years that Miranda has been the law of the land, some courts have strictly interpreted these rights and others have taken a more lenient view of them.

The Nevada Supreme Court recently held that the mere question, “Can I get an attorney?” is enough to invoke a suspect’s Miranda rights, which means all police questioning must cease immediately. The suspect in the case considered by the court asked that question after being arrested and advised of his Miranda rights enroute to the jail. He did not receive a clear answer, and at the police station officers re-Mirandized him and he waived his right to counsel. The Nevada Supreme Court found this situation unconstitutional and pointed out that the only possible interpretation of the suspect’s question was that he wanted legal counsel.

On the other hand, the U.S. Supreme Court, in another recent decision concluded that citizens do not have a right to remain silent unless they expressly invoke that right when talking to police. In that case, the defendant came voluntarily to the police department at the officers’ request and answered their questions. He was not Mirandized because he was not in-custody. However, his silence, shuffling his feet, biting his bottom lip, and tensing up at one point in the questioning was used against him at trial, undercutting the Fifth Amendment protections, which have always held that your silence cannot be used against you in a court of law. The Court held that Mr. Salinas’s failure to expressly invoke his right to silence meant that his silence and accompanying body language could be used as evidence against him.

Lessons to be learned

Two lessons can be taken from these new cases. First, no matter how friendly and casual law enforcement personnel may seem, always ask for an attorney. Second, do not hesitate to tell law enforcement personnel that you are invoking your right to remain silent. Then contact an aggressive and experienced Nevada criminal defense attorney who fiercely protects your rights to defend your case.

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