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Miranda turns 50: Here is why you shouldn't answer questions

The Miranda warnings have become well known over the past five decades. You might even be able to recite them after watching Law & Order, Blue Bloods, the Good Wife or another law-related sitcom. These warnings were designed to limit the number of false or coerced confessions.

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But unfortunately they still happen. A coerced confession in the Brendan Dassey case provided the basis for the "Making a Murderer" series. Dassey was 16 with intellectual limitations when he confessed during police questioning. He was questioned without a parent or guardian four times before confessing. His conviction was recently overturned, but he still remains in custody while the case is appealed.

In a Northwestern University Law Review podcast, Professor Laura Nirider discusses common interrogations tactics and how they can lead to false confessions. About a quarter of DNA exonerations in some of the most serious rape and murder cases involve these types of coerced statements. The podcast focuses on police questioning of children. But the information is broadly informative.

It underscores the risks of answering questions about a crime without an attorney. Do not talk to police until you have had time to consult a criminal defense attorney.

What are your Miranda rights?

Let's start with the basics. Here is the Miranda warning: "You have the right to remain silent. Any statement you make may be used against you. You have the right to have a lawyer present prior to and during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you have the right to have a lawyer appointed to represent you. You have the right to terminate the interview at any time."

Police must give this warning when you are under arrest. If this step is skipped, it does not make an arrest illegal. But it could bar whatever you said from being used in court.

Complicated issues relate to "custody." Miranda warnings are only required when you are in custody, but what does that mean. Texas appellate courts provide some answers. But the decisions must then be applied on a case-by-case basis. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court in J.D.B. v. North Carolina found that the analysis is different for children and needs to take into account age.

Coercive interrogation tactics

Why would someone confess if they are innocent? It is a question that is often asked. The podcast describes some of the police tactics that are specially designed and choreographed to elicit a confession. Questioning is often confrontational and denials are quickly shut down. An officer may claim to already have evidence of guilt even when none exists. Contamination or feeding information can happen through the use of leading questions.

Recordings are becoming more common, but do not always exist. Dealing with a statement after the fact is always challenging. If you answer questions, there is a real likelihood that what you say will be held against you even if you didn't commit a crime.

For these reasons, the best course of action is to politely refuse to speak with law enforcement officers. Take their card and explain that your attorney will contact them. Then call Mingledorff Law Firm, to speak with an experienced trial attorney who can effectively protect your rights. If you have already provided a statement, one of our attorneys can analyze whether steps were skipped or errors occurred that will affect your case.

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