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Miranda Rights

Navigation:  Home > Criminal Law > Miranda Warnings


The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. Based on this right, the Supreme Court has determined that criminal suspects cannot be subject to custodial interrogations without first being informed of their constitutional rights to remain silent and to have defense counsel. When a suspect is taken into custody, the Miranda warnings must be given before any interrogation takes place.

The primary purpose of the Miranda warnings is to ensure that an accused is aware of the constitutional right to remain silent before making statements to the police. Two conditions must be satisfied in order to invoke the warnings constitutionally required by Miranda. First, the suspect must have been in custody; second, the suspect must have been subjected to police interrogation. The definition of interrogation extends only to words or actions on the part of police officers that they should have known were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.

A custodial interrogation is questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way. With this in mind, what has come to be known as Miranda warnings are not only necessary in the classic arrest situation, but also serve to protect persons in all settings in which their freedom of action is curtailed in any significant way from being compelled to incriminate themselves. The initial determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned. Thus, the only relevant inquiry is how a reasonable man in the suspect's position would have understood his situation.

There are a few caveats: For instance, a "noncustodial interrogation" will not require Miranda warnings simply because the interrogation took place in a coercive environment. Otherwise, any interview of one suspected of a crime by a police officer will have coercive aspects to it, simply by virtue of the fact that the police officer is part of a law enforcement system which may ultimately cause the suspect to be charged with a crime. In addition, a noncustodial interview is not transformed into a custodial one simply because the questioning takes place in the station house, or because the questioned person is one whom the police suspect.

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