Virginia Criminal Defense: Understanding Miranda Rights

One of the things that "always happens in the movies" and not always in real life is something called Miranda warnings. On TV, the second the handcuffs close, we hear those familiar words "You have the right to remain silent..."
People are often shocked when they were not read their rights by a standard Miranda warning. This could have a huge effect on your case, but sometimes it has literally no impact. To understand why, the most important step is to consult with an experienced Virginia Criminal Defense attorney.

Confessions can be one of the most powerful pieces of evidence for a jury to hear and with a valid confession the conviction rate is above 99%. Often the best way to fight against this is to try to exclude the confession from evidence using a "Motion to Suppress" so the jury never hears about the statement at all.

For some criminal defendants, this "motion to suppress" route may best or (heaven forbid) even the only real defense. Criminal Defense Attorney John Sando will review your case to identify whether your Miranda rights were violated, and then use that information to build a solid defense. At Law Office of John N. Sando, LLC, we take your constitutional rights seriously. Contact us at 703-477-1609 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation and to learn more about how to build a strong defense for your criminal case.

What are Miranda Rights in Virginia?

We all have certain constitutional rights that protect us when interacting with the police and criminal justice system, and this is true wherever you are in the United States. One set of rights are known as Miranda rights, which were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona. 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Many people probably know about them from popular TV shows or action movies but may not know exactly what these rights mean. 

The reading of your Miranda rights is known as a ‘Miranda warning' because the police are “warning” you of your constitutional:

  • Right to remain silent, because anything you say can be used against in court
  • Right to a lawyer, even if you cannot afford the services of a private attorney

Being questioned while in police custody can be a terrifying, hours-long experience. The constitutional right to hear these warnings, exist to require police to remind a suspect of their right to remain silent before the police start asking questions. Violation of Miranda rights may be reason enough to suppress any incriminating evidence against you so long as that evidence was obtained from the violation, and evidence exclusion can be a critical part of your defense. In fact, getting charges completely dismissed can result (but does not always result) from the finding that Miranda rights were violated.

This is really the key to understanding Miranda: it is for police to tell you "Hey, you have the right to shut your mouth and tell police nothing at all about any crimes that might have happened." It is designed to educate people, to protect them from "snitching on themselves" because they didn't know they had another option. 

As an aside, silence is a great option and sometimes the only good option available. If you are talking to police and you feel tempted to lie, you are almost always going to be better off saying nothing than telling a lie. 

So what happens if we have a violation? In a nutshell, the judge essentially tries to "put things back to where they should be" by throwing out the confession police obtained by breaking the rules, but letting the rest of the case proceed if there is other independent evidence of guilt.

What is the test courts use for Miranda violations?

You always have the right against compelled self-incrimination and the right to a criminal lawyer.

The core concept is "custodial interrogation." For a Miranda violation to exist, we must have two elements met. The accused has been:

(1) Taken into police custody, and

(2) the police interrogated the accused.

If those two prongs are met, then any evidence (like a confession stating "I did it, I stole all the jellybeans") should be excluded, meaning kept out of court such that the judge or jury do not consider it at all.

Understanding what these terms mean can help you understand whether your Miranda rights were violated, so let's should break the two prongs down a little bit. We can't explore them fully here, but the key is that these ideas aren't always as simple as they seem.

  • What's custody?

Custody means not free to leave. We judge it by if a reasonable person would think they were in custody if they were in the same situation. If you are held against your will, you likely have been taken into custody. For example, being put into the back of a police car typically means you are in the custody of the police. 

This can be tricky though. Courts look to many factors, including location (house, police station, etc.), number of police officers, amount of force used or displayed, how long the accused was in the setting, FNbla

  • What's interrogation?

Subjected to interrogation means the police used words or actions specifically intended to elicit incriminating statements, or "words or actions on the part of police officers that they should have known were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response." FN2. 

For example, asking why you did it or where you hid a stolen item are questions that are subjecting you to an interrogation, meaning they said or did things "designed to or reasonably likely to elicit incriminating information,"... which is fancy lawyer talk for "the cops say or do something they're hoping will make you talk." 

There are thousands upon thousands of different cases in this area, and the line where police acts become "reasonably likely to elicit incriminating information" can be pretty fuzzy. FN5

If you were taken into custody and interrogated about criminal activity without being read the Miranda warnings, any evidence provided during that interrogation may be excluded from court. 

Note of caution: your words can still haunt you even if you were able to prove your Miranda rights were violated and, as a result, were able to suppress the evidence flowing from that violation. At trial, incriminating statements can sometimes be used to impeach you. This means your statements can be used to show you lied or are not fully telling the truth while on the stand.

Are There Exceptions When Miranda Warnings Are Not Required?

There are numerous exceptions to Miranda warnings, and these exceptions apply to when police must give Miranda warnings and when evidence can be excluded for Miranda warning violations. 

Some Common Exceptions Where Police Do Not Need to Give Miranda Warnings

A few situations exist where the police are not required to read a person the Miranda warnings. These situations include when the officers are: 

  • questioning someone for public safety purposes
  • asking standard booking questions, like your name and address
  • using an informant to talk to a person while incarcerated (this one can get really tricky)
  • stopping a vehicle for a traffic violation (not in custody, unless maybe they have your driver's license)

We should note the common situation where the police asked questions with no Miranda, but the defendant did not say anything. Here, there's no confession to exclude; the judge shrugs and says "well they didn't warn you to shut up, but you kept your mouth shut anyways, so no harm no foul. There's nothing for me to exclude."FN4

A few other exceptions:

  • Witnesses. When the police question a suspect, albeit unlawfully, and identify another potential witness, that witness may be allowed to testify at trial.
  • Inevitable discovery. When the police question a suspect, albeit unlawfully, and tangible evidence is discovered, that evidence may still be admissible if it would have been discovered without questioning the suspect.

Determining if Miranda Rights Were Violated in Virginia

You always have the right against compelled self-incrimination and the right to a criminal lawyer. Miranda requires that people be informed of these rights should they ever be:

  • Taken into police custody, and
  • Subjected to interrogation.

If you were taken into custody and interrogated about criminal activity without being read the Miranda warnings, any evidence provided during that interrogation may be excluded from court. Knowing what these terms mean can help you understand whether your Miranda rights were violated.

  • Custody means a reasonable person would think they were in custody if they were in the same situation. If you are held against your will, you likely have been taken into custody. For example, being put into the back of a police car typically means you are in the custody of the police. 
  • Subjected to interrogation means the police ask questions specifically intended to elicit incriminating statements. For example, asking why you did it or where you hid a stolen item are questions that are subjecting you to an interrogation.

One word of caution: your words can still haunt you even if you were able to prove your Miranda rights were violated and, as a result, were able to suppress the evidence flowing from that violation. At trial, incriminating statements can be used to impeach you. This means your statements can be used to show you lied or are not fully telling the truth while on the stand.

Can I Talk to the Police?

You can. Don't.

It is usually not advisable to talk to the police without the presence of an attorney. Some people, however, still want to talk. Miranda rights can be waived. Just remember: if a police officer delivers a Miranda warning, but you continue to talk, that information can be used against you as evidence in court. 

Here is a fantastic (but long) video of law Prof. James Duane and a former detective, saying in essence that it is never, ever a good idea for a criminal suspect to speak with police, and that in thousands of arrests no one has ever talked their way out of it or said anything that didn't hurt them. Don't Talk to the Police - YouTube

So Why Wasn't I Read My Miranda Rights?

You may not have been read Miranda rights if you were not being taken into custody to be interrogated or put under arrest. 

The police can and will ask basic identifying information questions before/without Miranda, and this is perfectly lawful. (Even in old war movies, POWs don't tell captors anything aside from "name, rank and serial number" - same basic idea, identifying information is still fair game).

The police can ask questions so long as they are not incriminating and you are not in custody. For example, traffic stops are not custodial. The police can pull you over for a traffic stop, and if that leads to a suspicion of intoxicated driving, the police can ask questions without reading your Miranda rights. 

Your Miranda rights and their impact depend on the exact circumstances of your encounter with the police. It is extremely fact-specific. This is exactly why it is important to seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney in Virginia.

A quick (silly, exaggerated) story to illustrate the point of why they often skip Miranda:

A guy is arrested, and demands to see the officer's supervisor. "You never read me my rights! I'm gonna sue you so hard. You better get a supervisor here right away." The officer brings in a sergeant.

Sarge: So this guy claims you never read him Miranda.
Cop: That's true, I did not.
Sarge: Why not?
Cop: Well, I arrested him for drunk in public. He has a 40 oz. bottle of malt liquor duct-taped to each hand, and when I first saw him in the parking lot he was singing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" at the top of his lungs while peeing on the side of my cruiser.
So, I asked him what he was doing, and he showed clear signs of intoxication and was in public, so I placed him under arrest.
Sarge: But after that arrest, why no Miranda?
Cop: Well, to be honest I wasn't planning on interrogating him or asking him any questions beyond the basic identifying info to book him.
Sarge: And why not? Confessions are always good for police to have.
Cop: Yes, but here I don't exactly need a confession to prove my case. The evidence is taped to his hands. And he hasn't been too cooperative so I just wanted to get him booked and get back to my patrol, and the magistrate can let him go in the morning when he's sobered up.
Sarge: Well, that makes a lot of sense. You don't really need any extra evidence for this charge, we can just play your bodycam footage for the judge. So you're right, if you aren't gonna interrogate him and don't want any additional incriminating statements then there is not really a need for Miranda. FN3
Now get those bottles off his hands, he's gonna hurt himself.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Fairfax Today

When your Miranda rights are violated, your attorney can use that to file motions to suppress evidence or dismiss the case––it all depends on the facts and circumstances. This can be a critical component of your defense strategy. 

At Law Office of John N. Sando, LLC, we know what to look for and will file motions to exclude evidence when it's applicable. Contact us today at 703-477-1609 or fill out our online form to schedule a free 30-minute consultation. Get the defense you deserve if you have been charged with a criminal offense.

Footnotes:

1. For one wild example, check out Wass v. Commonwealth, 5 Va. App. 27 (1987). Fifteen or sixteen police officers came in two dump trucks and a helicopter to execute a search warrant for drugs. They displayed loaded firearms and threatened to kill Mr. Wass's dogs if he didn't control them. They then followed this "impressive display of force" by telling him "you're free to go at any time, because you're not under arrest," and told him to sit in a chair while they searched the property. They did not give Miranda warnings and asked who owned a bag of cocaine. The Court ruled in Wass' favor - this was considered to be in custody, despite it being in the defendant's home, no handcuffs and an express statement that the accused was free to leave. His confession was in violation of Miranda.

For the short and broad definition, see Va. Code 19.2-390.04(A).

"Custodial interrogation" means any interview conducted by a law-enforcement officer in such circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to consider himself to be in custody associated with arrest and during which the law-enforcement officer takes actions or asks questions that are reasonably likely to elicit responses from the person that could incriminate him.

2. Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. at 302 (1980); cf. Ferguson, 278 Va. at 124 (2009); Quarles, 283 Va. at 224 (2012).

3. Exactly this point was made by the Virginia Supreme Court in the Quarles case. They approved police action and excused the lack of Miranda warnings, explaining in part that the detective in that case "expressed that he did not need or desire Quarles' cooperation, which was reasonable based on the extensive evidence he had [already] gathered." Id at 224.

5. There's a lot of different fact patterns. Here's a sampler pack - this quotation is just one footnote from one law review article.

"See, e.g., United States v. Kane, 726 F.2d 344, 349 (7th Cir. 1984) (asking suspect how he was doing and telling him ""only you can help yourself'" was not interrogation); State v. Lebron, 979 So. 2d 1093 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2008) (asking defendant if he knew ""how much trouble [he was] in'" constituted interrogation); Prioleau v. State, 984 A.2d 851, 853 (Md. 2009) (holding that officer should not have known saying ""What's up, Maurice?'" would produce an incriminating response); Williams v. State, 679 A.2d 1106, 1125 (Md. 1996) (saying ""this is going to work'" and reiterating to suspect his potential double murder charge were innocuous comments that "simply advised [suspect] that police had evidence they believed established [his] guilt in a double homicide"); Murray v. State, 864 S.W.2d 111 (Tex. App. 1993) (saying ""Happy Birthday'" to a suspect in an interrogation room did not constitute interrogation). But see Blake v. State, 849 A.2d 410, 420 (Md. 2004) ("Officer's statement ["I bet you want to talk now, huh!"] … could only be interpreted as designed to induce petitioner to talk and it was improper" when accompanying charging document with false statement of law with respect to the death penalty.); Thai Ngoc Nguyen v. State, No. 05-07-00030-CR, 2008 WL 726218, at 5 (Tex. App. Mar. 19, 2008) (holding that officer's comment ""If you want to tell me that that's your meth, then tell me that's your stuff'" was interrogation), aff'd, 292 S.W.3d 671 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009); Commonwealth v. Quarles, 720 S.E.2d 84, 86-89 (Va. 2012) (holding that officer's comment ""that's fine if he doesn't want to talk to me. I was not the person that robbed a white lady and hit her in the head with a brick,'" was only compulsion "of the subtle variety approved … under Innis")."

Kyle C. Welch, COMMENT: Asking the Scary Question: What Is the Correct Understanding of "Interrogation" Under Rhode Island v. Innis?, 50 Cal. W. L. Rev. 233, at fn. 198 (2014).