This week’s featured question was submitted for an officer of the Tomahawk Police Department
The question reads:
“I am very confused about the whole reading the rights thing. I see it and hear about it on TV and what not but it just does not make any sense to me! What is the point in telling someone they have a right to remain silent and telling them anything they say can be used against them, then ask them if they want to talk? Isn’t that forcing policemen to really shoot themselves in the foot? Sounds to me like it makes it awful hard to do their jobs. How did this whole thing come to be? Is there a law somewhere that says police have to do this? Thank you and thank you for having this section in the paper, it’s pretty neat”
Question answered by Tomahawk Police Patrol Sargent Steve Buckwalter
“Reading someone their rights is the legal requirement to advise a person who is in custody of their ‘Miranda warning.’
“Miranda warnings are required by the United States Supreme Court to be given prior to any ‘custodial interrogation,’ which may occur at the suspect’s home or at the police department. When an investigation moves from the investigatory stage to the custodial state, then the Miranda warning must be given to the suspect. Custody can be either actual or constructive custody.
“Actual custody would be telling the suspect that they are under arrest, handcuffing them, and transporting them to the jail or police department. An example of constructive custody would be a group of several officers surrounding a suspect and refusing to allow them to leave. The key to constructive custody is for officers to consider whether a reasonable person thought that they were free to leave or not. If an officer is in doubt, it is better to provide the Miranda warning too early than too late.
“Miranda warnings are not required for non-criminal investigations (such as city ordinance underage drinking violations) or when the interrogation is not “custodial.” The only exception to the custody requirement for criminal interrogations is that Miranda should be read to a non-custodial suspect if the suspect has already been charged with a crime by criminal complaint or warrant. During the investigation stage officers may interrogate suspects without it being considered custodial. This can be done by advising the suspect that they are not under arrest and are free to leave or stop the interview at any time. The officer would then ask the suspect if they understood that information and if they were still willing to answer questions. In many instances the suspect will agree to answer questions in this non-custodial interrogation.
“Many officers read Miranda warnings to suspects in custody from Miranda warning cards that they carry with them. The Miranda warning is as follows: ‘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 consult with an attorney for advice before questioning and the right to have an attorney present with you during questioning. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney and want one, an attorney will be provided for you. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you have the right to stop answering questions at any time and the right to ask for and have an attorney at any time you wish, including during the questioning. This is followed by the questions, do you fully understand each of these rights? And having these rights in mind are you willing to answer questions at this time?’
“In-custody suspects will waive their Miranda rights at times and agree to answer questions. This is documented in the officer’s reports and the suspect’s statements after waiving Miranda are admissible in court proceedings. Some of the factors that courts will take into consideration in determining if a situation is custodial will include time of day, the number of officers involved, the place of the questioning, the length of the questioning, and the people present with the suspect. Even when officers fully comply with the Miranda requirements the suspect’s statement must be voluntarily given, not the product of force, threats, harassment or persuasion.
“Miranda rights stem from the landmark case Miranda V. Arizona in 1966. The Miranda warning is named after one of the petitioners in the case, Ernesto Miranda. Before the Supreme Court decision in the case, the law governing custodial interrogations of criminal suspects varied from state to state. In the Miranda case, Ernesto Miranda was arrested on March 18, 1963, at his home in Arizona. Officers took him to a Phoenix police station and at the station witnesses identified him as a rapist. Police then took him to an interrogation room where he was questioned by two police officers. The officers didn’t tell him that he had the right to an attorney and he confessed to the crime two hours later. Miranda wrote a confession on a piece of paper and signed the paper. At the top of the paper was a typed statement saying that Miranda had made the confession voluntarily and with full knowledge of his legal rights. Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping in an Arizona state court. The situation involving the other three defendants in the case were similar with confessions after custodial interrogations without the assistance of legal counsel.
“All four of the defendants appealed the case to the Supreme Court in a single review. A divided Supreme Court affirmed the California Supreme Court’s decision against one of the defendants and reversed the guilty verdicts against Miranda and the other two. The Supreme Court detailed the unfairness and coercion used by some law enforcement officers in the case and then outlined the now familiar procedures that officer would have to use thereafter, known as the Miranda warning.
“The bottom line is that the Supreme Court requires officers to provide the Miranda warning to suspects in custody to advise them of their rights and to protect their rights.”
Have a question or concern you would like to address? Simply send your question or concern to firstname.lastname@example.org along with an indication of which entity your question or concern pertains to. Current participants are the Merrill Police Department, Merrill Fire Department, Tomahawk Police Department, Lincoln County Administrative Coordinator Randy Scholz, Lincoln County Parks and Forestry Director Kevin Kleinschmidt, Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson and Merrill Area Housing Authority Director Paul Russell. Please note: Those who submit to the ‘Ask an Official’ feature remain anonymous.