In our practice we hear from clients all the time that the police did not read them their rights, meaning Miranda rights, when they are arrested. Contrary to every television show and most people’s belief – the police don’t have to read you your rights in all arrests. The police only read you your rights when:
- You are in custody – that means physically not free to leave, handcuffed, in an interrogation room, in the back of a police cruiser, etc.
AND – AND – AND – AND (not to be confused with OR)
2. They ask you questions.
Therefore, if you are merely being arrested and no one asks you anything – Miranda rights do not apply. OR If you are not in custody and you volunteer information, or they ask you questions; Miranda rights do not apply.
So in sum – there must be two events present – CUSTODY and INTERROGATION.
So what happens if you remain silent through any police questioning whatever the circumstances – GOOD FOR YOU. That’s what you should do.
If you are stopped by the police on the street, at your house, in your car – you must give the police your name and identification if you have it – BUT THAT’S IT. You are not required to do anything else.
In a recent first degree murder case out of Palm Beach County, Florida; a woman was on trial for shooting her husband. When the police arrived at the house, she was sitting in her son’s car and made no response to the officer’s questions of whether she needed anything or would like a bottle of water. She was not yet under arrest (or in CUSTODY) nor were those questions likely to be confused with an interrogation. During her trial, she choose not to testify – yet the prosecutor said on several occasions, including closing argument, that because she said nothing, this concluded she was guilty since an innocent person would have protested their innocence. Ultimately she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life and currently resides in the Lowell Correctional Facility.
She appealed her conviction, arguing that the prosecutor could not comment on her PRE ARREST silence, since she never testified at trial. If she had, and had said something contrary to her pre or even post arrest statements, this could be used against her to “impeach” her trial testimony. But she didn’t testify and therefore any comment on her silence could not be used against her. (Some courts including the US Supreme Court have distinguished this from POST arrest testimony and the prosecutors ability to comment which is a blog for another day – )
The Fourth DCA overturned her conviction and said that the prosecutors comments on Mrs. Horwitz’s silence were improper and have remanded the case for a new trial. Note that just because there is error in a trial the appeallate courts do not have to grant a new trial – only when the error is “harmful” meaning that the error was so severe that it potentially caused the jurors to be swayed by the error. In some cases, not this one, but some, the evidence is SO OVERWHELMING that regardless of the error, the courts do not grant a new trial. But in Mrs. Horwitz’s case, she’s getting a new trial – if she’s convicted again of murder, she’ll probably get the same sentence – Life. She has nothing to lose, so she might as well go for it again. Good luck Mrs. Horwitz!