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When do the police have to give a Miranda warning?

Just about everybody in the United States has some passing familiarity with the “Miranda warning” that starts out “You have the right to remain silent…”

But, do you really understand what the Miranda warning is all about or when it has to be given? Knowing more about your rights when you’re confronted by the authorities is one of the most powerful protections you can have against abuses of authority. These are three things everybody should keep in mind.

A Miranda warning may not be offered when you’d think

The police only have to give you a Miranda warning under certain circumstances – and it’s not (necessarily) when they slap on the handcuffs. Miranda warnings are only required when you are both in official custody (traffic stops do not count) and are facing interrogation about a crime. Otherwise, the authorities have no obligation to remind you of your rights. That’s why it’s very important to be on guard and careful about what you say when you interact with the police.

Mistakes in wording won’t get your case tossed out of court

There’s a popular belief that even small mistakes in wording when a Miranda warning is issued can lead to an entire case being thrown out of court. That’s simply not true. Instead, the court will simply consider whether the overall meaning of the warning you were given fits the requirements set out in Miranda v. Arizona.

Silence isn’t the same as invoking your rights

Finally, you need to affirmatively invoke your rights. Simply staying silent doesn’t accomplish the same thing. Once you’ve positively stated that you are invoking your rights or that you want an attorney, all interrogations must cease. If you simply stop talking, the police are free to continue asking questions and applying psychological pressure on you to confess for as long as they want.

Your rights are protected under the U.S. Constitution and relying on them cannot be taken as an admission of guilt or used against you in a court of law, so don’t listen to anybody who says invoking them “will make you look guilty.” Protect yourself by speaking up and by seeking legal guidance right away.