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As an Arkansas moviegoer and TV watcher, you probably hear some version of the Miranda warning in every “cop show” you see. But have you ever considered that the Miranda warning is one of your most important protections if you find yourself in a situation where law enforcement officers attempt to question you about a criminal matter?

Basically, the Miranda warning, which emanated from the landmark 1966 U.S. Supreme Court holding in Miranda v. Arizona, consists of the following four parts:

  1. You have the right to remain silent.
  2. The prosecution can and will use anything you say in a court of law.
  3. You have the right to an attorney.
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for you.

Law enforcement interrogations

What the Miranda warning means is that while you must produce identification any time a law enforcement officer asks you for it, you never have to answer his or her questions or volunteer any information regarding a possible criminal matter unless and until your attorney is with you. However, you also need to understand that an officer does not have to “read you your rights” until (s)he arrests you.

Up until your arrest, you are on your own to know and invoke your rights. The officer has no obligation to tell you what your rights are. Nevertheless, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment guarantees your right to an attorney whenever you face, or possibly face, criminal charges.

Consequently, if an officer asks you for information involving a possible crime, you should politely decline to answer. While it is never in your best interests to argue with or “mouth off” to a law enforcement officer, it also is against your best interests to volunteer information. Remember, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. This is true any time you voluntarily answer an officer’s questions, whether or not you are under arrest.

Invoking your rights

You can invoke your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney at any time, including before and at any time during a law enforcement interrogation. As soon as you say you want an attorney, the officer(s) must stop questioning you and provide you with an attorney if you cannot afford to hire one. What this usually means is that a public defender will come to your aid.

Voluntary information

While innocent people never believe they will get into trouble by voluntarily speaking with law enforcement officers, you should never succumb to this naive and erroneous belief. When officers conduct a criminal investigation, they look for suspects. While they narrow down their list of possible suspects, you and anyone else in the vicinity of the alleged crime at the time it allegedly happened is at risk of voluntarily saying something that could cause the officers to conclude that they now have their suspect.

If you waive your Miranda rights by voluntarily talking to law enforcement officers, you put yourself at risk of arrest and criminal charges. Do not take this chance. Never submit to law enforcement questioning without having your attorney right by your side.