We often speak of Miranda warnings, but it’s a bit tricky to understand what they are and what they protect.
What does Miranda protect in Vermont criminal defense?
Miranda warnings are one of the most misunderstood concepts in Vermont criminal defense. Miranda protects an individual who is custody from making incriminating statements. Miranda is commonly read to persons as they are arrested on television and this has led to a widespread misconception that at the moment of arrest a person is entitled to Miranda warnings. Often, people believe that if Miranda rights were not read to them at the time of the arrest, then a resulting criminal case must be dismissed. This is inaccurate.
Miranda warnings notify a person in police custody that he or she may remain silent and not answer questions the police may ask. If the person chooses to respond to custodial interrogation after waiving his Miranda protections then his statements may be entered as evidence against him in criminal proceedings in Vermont Superior Court.
If a person is arrested, and thus in custody, but isn’t read Miranda and is not asked any questions and makes no incriminating statements then there is nothing for Miranda to protect. In other words, Miranda isn’t automatically triggered upon arrest. Many officers provide Miranda warnings as part of the arrest process, but if they fail to it isn’t a “get out of jail free card.”
If a person is arrested in Vermont and not provided Miranda warnings and is asked questions about his or her alleged crime and he or she answers those questions the remedy is to suppress his or her statements. This is done by filing a motion to suppress in the criminal division of the Vermont Superior Court. The Vermont criminal court judge assigned to the case hears the evidence and decides if Miranda were required (ie; whether the defendant was in custody or not); whether or not Miranda rights were given to the defendant; whether or not the defendant waived Miranda protections by indicating that despite the warning he or she wanted to talk to the police; whether or not questions were asked of the defendant by the police related to criminal conduct; and whether or not the defendant made responsive statements to the Vermont law enforcement officer.
If the criminal division Vermont Superior court judge determines that Miranda was required and not provided or that Miranda was required, given, but not knowingly and voluntarily waived by a defendant then the judge will order the statements suppressed. Suppression means that the evidence is “thrown out” or inadmissible at a trial against the Vermont criminal defendant. Sometimes all of the evidence against a defendant is his statements, so if the statements are suppressed, the case must be dismissed. Sometimes, however, a defendant’s statements are just one piece of evidence against him, so the case can proceed to a jury trial for determination of guilt or acquittal without the statements coming in.
Miranda can be a confusing concept and it is best to have an experienced Vermont criminal defense attorney review your case if you believe that there was a potential Miranda violation.