South Dakota DUI Counsel™ - The ABCs of Miranda Warnings

“He didn’t read me my rights!”

This is one of the most common complaints I hear in criminal cases, and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases are no exception. Unfortunately, most people who have not been read their Miranda warnings in such cases don’t have a leg to stand on. Failure to warn or “Mirandize” a defendant doesn’t mean a case will be thrown out of court nor does it even mean certain damning evidence, such as a breath test, will be ruled inadmissible. In fact, Miranda warnings are actually very limited as to the rights it protects.

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Let’s parse the warnings:

First, “You have the right to remain silent.” This is a big one. It should lead a reasonable person to shut up. It rarely does. Regardless, the warning is simply a reminder that you don’t have to say anything to law enforcement no matter how much they would like you to talk.

Second, “Anything you say can and will be used against you in court.” If the first warning doesn’t induce silence, this one should. Again, it rarely does. It basically tells a potential defendant that his or her statements can come back to haunt them in court.

Third, “You have the right to an attorney and to have them present with you during questioning.” Bottom line? You can and should call a lawyer if law enforcement is going to ask you questions. This is a good idea as your lawyer has the education and experience to know whether you should speak at all or, if you choose to, what you can say. Once again, this warning relates to statements made to law enforcement.

Fourth, “If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided at no cost to you.” The law places such importance on statements made to law enforcement being made freely and voluntarily, that it requires you to have a free lawyer, if you ask for one. There is no valid reason to not having a lawyer sitting next to you during any questioning by law enforcement.

Fifth and finally, “You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not make any statements or answer any questions.” If you’ve answered some questions, but get uncomfortable, you can and should stop talking. These rights are yours and are in no way designed to assist law enforcement. They cannot be taken away, no matter how angry the interrogator gets.

Notice that all Miranda warnings relate to statements. They do not apply to other kinds of evidence, like a breathalyzer test. As it turns out, they don’t even apply to all statements. In a DUI setting, the conversation between an arresting officer and curbed driver is not likely to be protected. The law clearly states that cops can ask questions. Drunken rants in the back seat of a squad car while on the way to the police station aren’t protected either. In this scenario, the arresting officer isn’t even asking questions, but rather an inebriant is offering his or her thoughts. So, when do statements get the protection of those warnings we’ve seen on TV our whole lives?

A defendant needs to be questioned as part of a custodial interrogation, meaning he or she is clearly in custody and is being asked questions by law enforcement. If one is sitting in a police station handcuffed to a wall and a burly cop is barking questions at you, your Miranda warnings better have been read, otherwise your answers will likely be suppressed in court. There are other, less obvious scenarios that may apply, but they only apply to statements made.

“What is a custodial interrogation,” is really the big question for an attorney and the court and I won’t get into that here. The point of this article is to shed some light in plain language as to what one’s rights actually are and when Miranda warnings apply. 

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