Know Your Rights

Suppose you get a letter from Macy’s or Target in the mail.  It says that there has been a cyber security breach and your data may have been compromised.  They tell you they have changed their security measures, instruct you to watch your credit cards, and, as a token of good will, they give you a $100 gift card.  Now also suppose that you need to get a friend a birthday present.  You’d use that $100 gift card in a second, right?  In many ways your Miranda Rights are like that gift card–they are something that is usually given to you and you have every right to use them.  It’s not cheating or dishonest, any more than using that gift card is stealing.

The Miranda rights are based on a case, Miranda v. Arizona.  In that case, the US Supreme Court held that people should be told what their rights are when they are being questioned by police while in custody.  It’s a very common sense rule—sort of like informed consent in the medical context.  You are told what your rights are and then given the choice about what to do—use them or not.  As a universal rule, you should use your Miranda rights.

But over the years a strange thing has happened to Miranda rights.  Thanks to law dramas on TV, many people think that having their Miranda Rights read to them means something else other than “protect yourself.”  In fact, many people think, either implicitly or explicitly, that being read your Miranda rights means you are “big trouble and you need to talk.”

A quick aside proves the point.

A police detective decides, after he retires, to be an investigator for an insurance company.  During these insurance investigations he would sometimes run into folks that just didn’t want to talk.  And so he did something strange–he read them their Miranda rights even though they had nothing to do with the insurance investigation.  Conditioned by what we see on TV, these people would instantly think something really bad was happening and start talking.

Miranda Rights, because of their ingrained nature, trigger automatic responses in people, responses so powerful, as this aside demonstrates that they hurt their own interests.  But don’t fall victim to the automated, conditioned response.  If you are being given your Miranda rights–like the free gift card–use them.  Ask for a lawyer, then stop talking.

One other interesting thing about Miranda rights is that everyone knows them almost by heart.  You might be able to recite them like the Pledge of Allegiance thanks to crime dramas on TV, namely Law and Order.  You can probably hear Lenny from Law and Order going through them as he arrests someone:

You have the right to remain silent

You have the right to an attorney

If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you…

These rights are incredibly important.  They tell you you have the right to protect yourself.  And if you are being read your Miranda Rights you REALLY need to protect yourself.  So use them.  Ask for a lawyer and then stop talking.

Things get tricky, however, because the police are not always required by law to give you your Miranda rights.  Sometimes they can ask questions designed to get answers harmful to you and they don’t need to advise you of your Miranda rights.  So err on the side of caution and always do the same thing when asked unusual questions by the police (questions other than basica biographical and identity questions)–ask for a lawyer, then stop talking.

If you are charged with a crime and need legal advice, contact me at: either (603) 318-0450 or



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