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When Do The Police Have To Read You Your Rights

Miranda Rights

In the case of Miranda v. Arizona the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a criminal defendant is entitled to be informed about his right against self incrimination as well as his right to an attorney before law enforcement could conduct a custodial interrogation. These rights became known as the defendant’s Miranda Rights.


As stated above Miranda Rights only need to be read during a custodial interrogation. But what is a custodial interrogation? This is a difficult question that the courts have had trouble dealing with. If a defendant is pulled over by the police for a traffic stop he is clearly not in custody for purpose of Miranda. This is because requiring law enforcement to read every person their Miranda rights before questioning them in case they said something incriminating would be unduly burdensome to the police. On the other hand when a defendant is arrested and put in the back of the police car he is clearly in custody for purpose of Miranda. However in between those two circumstances the law is very unclear.

One of my first experiences in dealing with Miranda as an attorney was a DUI case. While the police were investigating my client for DUI they decided to perform some Field Sobriety Exercises on the side of the road. After the defendant performed those exercises near perfection the police asked the defendant if he had smoked any cannabis, to which the defendant admitted he did. The question was whether the officer detaining the defendant to perform Field Sobriety meant the defendant was in custody. Unfortunately during my research I found where courts have ruled that requiring defendant’s to perform field sobriety exercises did not render the defendant in custody for purposes of Miranda.


There are two main parts that courts look at in deciding whether a defendant’s right against self incrimination has been violated during an interrogation. First is whether or not the defendant was actually asked a question. A question is essentially any statement made by the police that is likely to elicit an incriminating statement.

The second is whether or not the police were eliciting testimonial evidence. This is because the right against self incrimination has been limited to testimonial evidence. Law enforcement can require that you give samples of your breath, DNA, and fingerprints without violating your rights because they are considered physical evidence, and not testimonial. Also the characteristics in your voice like slurred speech has also been considered not to be testimonial evidence.


There has long been a myth that if the police did not read a defendant their rights then the case gets thrown out. This is far from the truth. If law enforcement violates a defendant’s rights as set out in Miranda v. Arizona then the court will exclude the statements that the defendant made to law enforcement from being admitted as evidence.