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Miranda Warnings - How Do they Really Work?


We have all seen the shows, right? We all know the Miranda Rights as first recognized in the United States Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)? No? Ok, here are the warnings, word for word:

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 to you.

Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?

That is it, four short sentences followed by a query of whether the suspect understands the rights as read and if they wish to give a statement. Nevertheless, how and if the warnings apply to an arrest situation in Pennsylvania has been the source of much confusion.

How do the Miranda Rights Apply in Pennsylvania

An officer, agent or investigating officer is only required to read the Miranda warnings once the suspect is in custody. Once the suspect is in custody, the warnings must be given to advise the suspect that any comments they utter during that time could be used against them in Court.

How does this apply? Here is a factual situation: Cops conduct a traffic stop of a suspect in a car. Cops eventually arrest the person for possession with the intent to deliver drugs, suspect is handcuffed and placed beside the police car. While one officer searches the suspect's car, another officer starts to question the suspect: "Where did you get the drugs? Where were you going? Do you have a gun?"

The suspect responds and gives answers that incriminate himself. Officer takes the suspect to the police station for processing. Suspect is arraigned and bond is set. The suspect makes bond and later hires a criminal defense attorney. The Attorney cross examines the arresting officers at the Preliminary Hearing or other pre-trial hearing. The officers admit that they failed to read the suspect the Miranda Warnings and that their questions posed to the suspect where geared to garner a response from the suspect.

In Pennsylvania, the Defense Attorney can later move to suppress or keep out the suspect's statements from trial because the suspect was not advised of his Miranda Warnings prior to offering the statements: The suspect was in custody, interrogated and gave incriminating statements in response to police questioning.

In short, Miranda warnings are given to protect suspects against self-incrimination while in custody and advise the suspect of the opportunity to speak with competent legal Counsel to represent their interests, regardless of ability to pay for the Counsel. The rationale is that incriminating statements must be voluntary and statements given while in custody, in response to police questioning, are presumed involuntary due to the totality of circumstances being inherently coercive.

However, for yourMiranda Rights to apply, you must be in custody or reasonably believe that you are not free to leave and your statements must be given in response to police questioning. In some instances, Courts will find that statements offered during custodial interrogation are presumptively involuntary unless the suspect first receives Miranda Warnings. See e.g. Commonwealth v. DiStefano, 782 A.2d 574, 579 (Pa. Super. 2001), appeal denied, 806 A.2d 858 (Pa. 2002).

When Miranda Rights do not Apply

Officers are not required to give Miranda Warnings if they are questioning or investigating an incident and the suspect blurts out incriminating statements while in police presence but not police custody.

For example, you are approached by police officers while walking down the street and the officer asks "Where are you going? Where have you been? What are you doing? Where you driving Drunk Last Night? Did you steal candy bars from the local grocery store?" You have no obligation to respond or answer any questions, you are not in custody and you should simply remain silent and walk away. If you give any incriminating statements, those statements can be used against you since you were not under arrest, not in custody and the Courts will conclude that you voluntarily offered such statements.

If officers come to your house, knock on the door and ask questions about your involvement in a homicide, robbery, fake id ring or allegations about being publically intoxicated the night before, you have no obligation to respond or answer any questions. You should simply and politely ask the officers to leave, decline to answer any questions and remain silent.

Again, if you give any incriminating statements, those statements can be used against you since you were not under arrest, not in custody and the Courts will find that you voluntarily offered such statements.

Be on the safe side: Just remain silent

Regardless if you are in custody or in police presence, your best course of action is to simply remain silent and immediately contact a Criminal Defense Attorney to protect your rights. Do not think that a failure of the officers to advise you of your Miranda Rights is a guarantee to keep out incriminating statements by a motion to suppress. Very rarely will you "talk your way out of a situation". If officers are asking you questions about a crime, you should simply refuse to answer and contact an attorney.

Attorney Frank Walker of Frank Walker Law is a National Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer and Personal Injury Attorney with offices in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and Morgantown West Virginia.

If you or someone you love are facing criminal charges or seriously injured in an accident, contact Attorney Frank Walker immediately at 412-315-7441, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for aggressive and experienced Criminal Defense or Representation in a Civil Case.