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Exercising Miranda rights following an arrest

Familiarity with Miranda warnings is almost inescapable if you have ever watched a crime drama. You probably can recite the rights word for word along with the police actor who slaps the handcuffs on a person suspected of committing a crime. But, do you really understand what protections Miranda warnings offer?

Prince Georges County residents may assume any questioning by police must be accompanied by a Miranda warning, but that's not true. An officer is not required to give a Miranda warning unless a person is in custody and under interrogation. Police may use any information you share voluntarily before or after an arrest as evidence to prosecute you.

Generally, the "right to remain silent" kicks in once an arrest is made and an interrogation begins. The right to maintain silence does not apply when an officer simply asks for your name or other routine information – a traffic stop is not a form of police custody. Opt for silence when it's not clear whether you're under arrest.

Miranda warnings give you the right to contact a defense lawyer and have that attorney present during a police interrogation. The court must appoint an attorney to represent you if you are unable to afford legal services. An interrogation must end if you change your mind about answering questions or request to have a lawyer while in custody.

Force or threats may not be used by officers to obtain statements or a confession. Individuals should be aware police can employ non-coercive tactics to try to obtain the same goals. At all times, remember the strength of your case can depend upon what you don't say.

Some rule changes were applied to Miranda warnings in recent years, which a criminal defense attorney can clarify, but the basic rights remain intact. Prosecutors may not use police evidence obtained improperly, including proof wrongfully collected through Miranda rights violations.

Source: FindLaw, "Miranda Warnings and Police Questioning," accessed Aug. 21, 2015

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