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The Miranda Warning and False Confessions: What You Need to Know


The Miranda Warning and False Confessions: What You Need to Know

The Miranda warning is a staple of American policing, thanks to the 1966 Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. You’ve heard it a million times on TV crime shows: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” But what is the real purpose of the Miranda warning, and what happens when police don’t give it? Let’s break it down.

What is the Miranda Warning?

The Miranda warning is a warning that police are required to give before questioning criminal suspects who are in custody. It lets them know they have certain rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, including:

  • The right to remain silent
  • Anything they say can be used against them in court
  • The right to have an attorney present during questioning
  • If they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to them

Police are required to explain these rights in a clear and understandable way before beginning an interrogation. The warning gives people a chance to assert their constitutional rights before speaking to police when they are most vulnerable.

Why is the Miranda Warning Important?

The Miranda warning serves two key purposes:

  1. It protects against self-incrimination – The 5th Amendment says no one can be compelled to be a witness against themselves in a criminal case. So police can’t force you to confess. The Miranda warning makes you aware of your right to remain silent.
  2. It protects the right to counsel – The 6th Amendment guarantees the right to have an attorney during criminal proceedings. The Miranda warning tells you that you have the right to consult with a lawyer before and during questioning by police.

These rights are especially important during police interrogations, when suspects may be frightened, confused, or not fully aware of their rights. The Miranda warning provides a clear, universal way for police to inform people of their rights before attempting to question them after an arrest.

What Happens if Police Don’t Give the Miranda Warning?

If police fail to provide the Miranda warning before questioning someone in custody, any information or confession they obtain is inadmissible in court. This “exclusionary rule” provides incentive for police to give the warning, since they want to be able to use suspects’ statements as evidence.

There are some exceptions where police are not required to give Miranda warnings:

  • During routine booking questions (name, address, etc.)
  • In urgent situations posing an imminent threat to public safety
  • When interviewing foreign nationals from countries without similar rights

But in general, any questioning of a suspect in custody without a Miranda warning will make whatever they say inadmissible. This helps prevent coerced or false confessions made without knowledge of one’s rights.

False Confessions Happen More Than You Think

You may think there’s no way you would ever falsely confess to a crime you didn’t commit. But false confessions occur surprisingly often. It’s estimated that over 30% of wrongful convictions involve false confessions. Why would an innocent person confess? There are several reasons:

  • Youth – Minors, especially teenagers, are more likely to falsely confess. Their brains aren’t fully developed and they’re more susceptible to pressure from police.
  • Mental impairment – People with mental disabilities or mental illness are much more likely to give false confessions.
  • Coercion – Police use manipulative interrogation tactics that induce false confessions through fear, confusion, or exhaustion.
  • Misunderstanding – Suspects may confess falsely if they don’t fully understand their rights and the implications of confessing.
  • Protecting someone – Some falsely confess to protect the real perpetrator, like a loved one.

False confessions often contain details about the crime that only the real perpetrator would know. This makes them seem credible at first, even if totally false.

Don’t Talk to Police Without an Attorney

Here’s the takeaway – never talk to police if you are arrested or suspected of a crime, period. I don’t care how innocent you are or how much you want to clear things up. Assert your right to remain silent and ask for an attorney immediately. Anything you say will only give police information to use against you, even if you are completely innocent.

I know it can feel rude or like you’re “hiding something” if you refuse to talk. But you aren’t required to help police do their job. Let your attorney handle speaking to police – that’s what you pay them for. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking an innocent person has nothing to hide. Innocent people get convicted on false confessions way too often.

The Miranda warning exists to protect your rights and prevent self-incrimination. Police are allowed to lie and manipulate during interrogations, so your best defense is to keep your mouth shut. Be polite but firm and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t say another word until they arrive. It could save you from a false conviction.

What to Do If Police Violate Your Rights

If police refuse your request for a lawyer or keep questioning you after you assert your right to silence, they are violating your constitutional rights. This means any confession or statements they obtain are inadmissible in court. But police officers rarely face consequences for violating rights, even though they are breaking the law.

Here are steps to take if police violate your Miranda rights:

  1. Clearly state you are asserting your right to remain silent and want an attorney. Say it loudly and clearly.
  2. Don’t physically resist police, just repeat your request for a lawyer. Ask for their names/badge numbers.
  3. Don’t answer any questions or sign any documents without your attorney present.
  4. Write down all details you remember as soon as you can after the incident.
  5. File a complaint with the police department’s internal affairs division.
  6. Contact the ACLU or other civil rights groups for help asserting your rights.
  7. Consult a civil rights attorney about suing for a Miranda rights violation.

Police are required to honor your rights if you clearly invoke them. Violating those rights jeopardizes their case by making any confessions inadmissible. Don’t let officers bully or trick you into talking without a lawyer present. Know your rights!


The Miranda warning is an important check on police power and a critical protection against self-incrimination. But it only works if you understand and assert your rights. Don’t let anxiety, confusion, or ignorance lead you into making statements against your own interests. The police are allowed to lie to suspects – so you should not take them at their word.

False confessions are shockingly common, especially among vulnerable groups. Once you confess, it’s very hard to take it back, even if totally false. So don’t talk to police without your attorney present. Ever. I don’t care what type of intimidation tactics they use. Invoke your right to silence immediately and repeat your request for counsel. Don’t stop asserting your rights until they provide you with an attorney. Don’t sign anything or make any statements without your lawyer present.

Understanding the Miranda warning could save you from falsely incriminating yourself. Don’t let police take advantage of your ignorance. You have constitutional rights – use them! Now you know what to do.


The Innocence Project – False Confessions or Admissions

ACLU – Know Your Rights When Stopped by Police

FindLaw – Miranda Rights and the Fifth Amendment

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