Most of us who have watched any kind of TV crime drama will think we know how to ‘Mirandize’ someone. In my first novel I came across the issue of how to do it correctly when a character was arrested. I knew what they did on the TV dramas, but is that how someone’s rights are really read?
As my story was based in the USA, I had to find out the correct procedure and used a book written by an ex-policeman from Ohio for the information I needed (Police Procedure & Investigation - A Guide for Writers, by Lee Lofland).
But it is the same everywhere? And was that information correct? I’ve done some research, and here is what I’ve found.
In the USA
In the USA they use the Miranda Warning, so named after a Supreme Court case ‘Miranda vs Arizona’. During the case the court decided the constitutional rights, which are now referred to in the Warning, should be provided to people in custody. The specific wording was not set by the court, but there is a certain amount of information that is to be given, and the suspects are required to acknowledge that they understand their rights. The rights are to be read before questioning commences - not necessarily on arrest.
The Miranda Warning
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”
The reference I used for my book indicated an acknowledgement should be sought from the suspect after each statement. It does vary from region to region, but the essence is the same.
In the United Kingdom
In the UK, your rights when being held by police include access to free legal advice, the ability to contact someone to inform them of your whereabouts, and to see a written notice informing you of all your rights. Prior the being questioned, the police must read you the following statement:
“You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
There are no ‘Miranda Rights’ in Australia, but there is an obligation on the part of the police to caution you that anything you say may be used in evidence.
As a Tasmanian, I researched further specifics in my own state. Before being questioned, you have the right to attempt to communicate with a family member, friend or legal practitioner. This right can be delayed for up to four hours under certain circumstances. There is no such thing as an ‘off the record’ conversation, either. So if you talk, it can be used.
If I learned one thing during this research, it was to make sure you do your research! Assuming all you see on TV - even the reality type shows - cannot be relied on as correct, and processes not only change from country to country, but from state to state. Finding the necessary information is easy, but for accuracy I would recommend using Government sources or ones verified by lawyers.
References I used for this post (all of them are websites):
USA - LawInfo (lawyer verified), and MirandaWarning.org
UK - Gov.uk
Australia - Legal Aid Tasmania, and FindLaw Australia (lawyer verified)
What's it about?
It's about words and my life as a writer. There are also tips for those starting their writing journey, with a focus on self-publishing, and encouragement all round.