One of the complaints we hear most frequently from criminal clients is that the arresting officer didn’t read the client his rights. What does this mean and why does it matter?
Generally speaking a citizen has a right against self-incrimination. This is protected by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Part I, Article 15 of the NH Constitution. This means that a citizen cannot be forced to be a witness against himself.
In 1966 the United States Supreme Court issued the landmark decision of Miranda v. Arizona. In this case the Court explained that when a person is taken into custody, he must be informed of basic rights before he is asked questions that are designed to get him to incriminate himself. These rights are essentially that the accused has the right to remain silent, what he says can be used against him and that he has a right to consult with an attorney before answering questions.
Generally speaking if one is not advised of his Miranda Rights that is not dispositive. However, if the accused is in custody and then makes incriminating statements that are the result of police questioning his statements may not be used by the prosecutor in his trial if he was not advised of his rights before he started making statements. Under this scenario it could be very important that the accused was not “read his rights.”
If you find yourself being questioned by a police officer you should immediately find out if you are free to leave. If you are not free to leave than the best advice is simply assert your right to talk with a lawyer before you answer any questions. If you decide to give up that right and answer questions, everything you say can be used against you. That means if the questioning officer misunderstands what you say, or if you say things in the wrong way, you may be badly hurting your lawyer’s chance of defending you at trial.