Should a Tennessee law enforcement officer try to question you about a criminal case (s)he is working on, you need to know that you are under no legal obligation to voluntarily talk with him or her. It is true. Your Miranda rights and your constitutional rights from which they flow mean that you never need to talk with law enforcement officers without having your attorney with you. All you must do is give officers your name and identification if and when they ask for it. Other than that, you need do nothing further or divulge any additional information.
While your best interests dictate that you never “mouth off” to a law enforcement officer, you nevertheless should feel free to calmly assert your Miranda rights whenever you need to. You probably have heard these rights recited numerous times in movies and on TV, so you likely already know that your Miranda rights have the following four components:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
When Miranda applies
The U.S. Supreme Court established your Miranda rights in the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona in 1966. However, what you may not realize is that under the law, officers must only “read you your rights” when they arrest you. They need not inform you that you have these rights prior to your arrest.
This makes a pre-arrest situation particularly perilous for you if you do not know and assert your rights while you are still only a witness or a person of interest. The most important thing you should remember is that when officers conduct a criminal investigation, they are not your friends. Their purpose in asking you questions is to allow them to determine if they have probable cause to believe that you are the alleged perpetrator. Consequently, they can use anything you voluntarily tell them in answer to their questions against you, even though they did not warn you that they could and would.
You have the following three crucial constitutional rights that supersede your Miranda rights in any criminal situation:
- You have the right to remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures by government officials under the Fourth Amendment.
- You have the right to not incriminate yourself under the Fifth Amendment.
- You have the right to have your attorney present any time you talk to law enforcement officers under the Sixth Amendment.
These rights constitute the vital protections provided to you by this country’s Founding Fathers. It is your responsibility, however, to assert them whenever you feel it necessary. Do not rely on others, particularly law enforcement officers, to remind you of them.