Miranda Warnings: Myths and Truths Part 1


Do you have the right to remain silent? Technically yes. Will anything you say be used against you? You bet it will! Do you have the right to have an attorney present during questioning? Well yes, but good luck getting the police to arrange that! If you can’t afford an attorney one will be appointed for you free of charge. True, but usually only after it’s too late to “unsay” all the things you wish that you hadn’t already said before they appointed you an attorney -- That’s of course the same court appointed attorney whose job it was supposedly to prevent you from saying all those things in the first place.

The Latin phrase “Claude ostium praeponitur animalibus horreum effugiet”, loosely translated means: “closing the barn door after the cows get out”. This in large part, is one of the main intentions of the Miranda warnings—to help keep the barn door shut before the cows (statements you wouldn’t have made if you had proper legal advice) are let out into the world. It simply makes no difference if the farmer closes the doors afterwards. By this time, the cows will have already begun grazing in the midday sun completely unaware that within a few days they will soon be served as delicious steaks by a server (the prosecutor) at the Outback Steakhouse (the court).

A Very Short History of Miranda vs. Arizona

On March 3, 1963, Arizona Police arrested a person named Ernest A. Miranda. They accused him of kidnapping and committing other serious crimes. Police interrogated Earnest Miranda for 2 hours without an attorney present. He then confessed (odd fact: he also confessed to an unrelated burglary while being interrogated). Prosecutors then charged Ernest largely based on the strength of his confession. His case went to trial and Defendant Ernest Miranda was convicted. He appealed his conviction. Fast forward to 1966-- the United States Supreme Court published their famous decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona. It was a close 5 to 4 decision. The Miranda vs. Arizona case set forth the rules that we are all familiar with today. Miranda requires that when a person is subject to questioning by police while that person is in custody the suspect must be advised of the following rights:

  1. Right to remain silent
  2. Anything you say can be used against you in court
  3. Right to have an attorney present during questioning
  4. Right to a free attorney if detainee cannot afford one

That’s it. Simple. Understandable. Straight forward. Not exactly. We will discuss some of the million or so exceptions to the “Miranda Rule” in Part 2 of this blog next week.

Miranda: The Rule Everybody “Knows” but Few Understand

It does not matter whether the Illinois State Police arrested you for driving 125 MPH on Roosevelt Road, or the Chicago police locked you up for a criminal matter because you just “looked guilty. Anybody who has ever watched a TV crime drama knows that you have "the right to remain silent", and what person born after 1964 doesn’t know that "everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law"? What’s that you say? No money? Don't worry if you’re without funds "an attorney will be provided for you free of charge". So, if you’ve been raised on television (as most of us have), some people may believe that if the police violate these rules, the suspect walks! Case over! Just as simple as that. Well, unfortunately it's just not that simple.

Who to Trust for Information About Miranda Warnings

Information about the Miranda Warnings are everywhere! All you have to do is ask some guy you met in lock-up awaiting weekend bond court at 26th & California in Chicago. Or your first-cousin best friend’s sister’s yoga instructor, who you are 99% sure is dating a real estate attorney or dentist or something. Or consult any television show or Netflix special for your answers, especially ones that have “CSI” in the title. But the best answers about how Miranda warnings apply to your case clearly must come from “the Google Machine”; the same place that gives you all the answers about medical ailments and how to remove stains from couches. Right? Wrong. Even legal information from real criminal lawyers online will usually not provide the accurate information you require to properly evaluate your criminal or traffic matter. That’s because each and every case is different, and the information isn’t always reliable unless that source knows the specific facts of your case. Often, “partial” accurate information can be as useless as no information at all. The answers to legal questions depend upon the law AND the unique facts of each case.

Speak to Our Experienced Chicago Criminal Legal Team

Since 1990, the skilled attorneys at Sexner & Associates LLC have been helping defendants in Chicago and across Illinois determine whether police interactions were lawful or deprived them of their constitutional rights to due process, lawful arrest and a fair trial. Contact us 24 hours a day at (800) 996-4824 or contact us online any time of day for straight, honest answers.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : January 13, 2023