No. Your case will not automatically be dismissed if the police did not read you your Miranda rights. This topic comes up frequently in conversations between defense lawyers and defendants. Oftentimes, my clients become upset when they learn that the case against them won't be thrown out (or even weakened) because of the failure to have their rights read to them.
The failure of the police to read your Miranda Rights to you only becomes relevant if you made an incriminating statement to the police after being asked a question, while you were in their custody. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. We'll keep it simple for the purposes of this blog.
Example: A young man (YM) whom, after being arrested and placed in handcuffs, says to the arresting police officer, "I was only holding the gun for a friend." YM said this in response to the officer's question, "where did you get the gun?" YM had not yet been Mirandized.
Let's walk through the analysis, using the above example:
- The Law - Under Massachusetts law, the police (or any government actor) must recite the Miranda rights to a person who is in "custody" before an "interrogation" begins. "The requirements of Miranda are not triggered unless the interrogation is custodial."
- What is Custody? This question cannot be answered simply. There are many cases that address whether a defendant was in custody. Whether a person is in custody is fact-specific; in other words, it depends on the circumstances of the case. The crucial question in determining whether an interrogation is custodial is whether "a reasonable person in the defendant's position would have believed that he was in custody." In YM's case, was he in custody? Answer: yes, almost certainly. He had been arrested and placed in handcuffs; a reasonable person would have believed that he was in custody.
- What is Interrogation? Under Massachusetts and Federal law, interrogation is "express questioning or its functional equivalent." In YM's case, was he subject to express questioning or its functional equivalent? Answer: yes, almost certainly. YM's statement was a direct result of the officer's question.
- What are Miranda Rights? Miranda rights are the individual's right against self-incrimination and right to an attorney, spoken aloud. The affirmative duty of the police to recite them to a suspect come from the US Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. Under the law, the officer must inform you 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 an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.
- Who decides if the Miranda Rights were violated? - The judge decides. If there is a Miranda-type issue in your case your attorney will file a Motion to Suppress the statements. A hearing will be conducted. After the hearing the judge will decide if you were interrogated while in custody without the benefit of Miranda warnings. If so, the statements will be thrown out, they will not be used against you at trial; if not, the statements will not be thrown and may be used against you at trial. So, what would happen in YM's case? It is very likely that YM's statements would be suppressed, due to the custodial interrogation of YM before he was mirandized.
Note: There are, of course, exceptions to the rules above. In addition, there are scenarios where a statement may not be the result of custodial interrogation but are otherwise suppressible, such as an incident where the statements were not "voluntary."
Note: The scenario is YM's case is very straight-forward. Rarely is a fact-pattern this simple. Also, be mindful that if you find yourself in a situation like this, your version of the incident may differ from the officer's version.