Whenever Virginia law enforcement officers seek to question you with regard to a criminal matter, you would do well to remember that no law requires you to voluntarily speak with police officers or provide them with any information other than your name and address if they request identification. In fact, just the opposite applies in the United States.
You undoubtedly have heard various iterations of the Miranda warning since you were a child watching TV or going to “cop show” movies. Just to refresh your memory, the Miranda warning’s four parts consist of the following:
- 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 appointed for you.
This warning came about as a result of the landmark 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. Your rights from which the Miranda warning flows, however, date back to the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution.
When Miranda applies
If you think that law enforcement officers must “read you your rights” by giving you the Miranda warning any time they seek to question you, think again. Miranda applies only at the point where officers arrest you and take you into custody. Prior to then, they have no obligation to tell you about your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and your Sixth Amendment right to have an attorney present any time they question you.
Nevertheless, you always have these rights and you should always exercise them. In other words, it never serves your best interests to voluntarily speak with law enforcement officers.
Criminal investigations constitute a major part of police work. Whenever officers believe that a crime took place, they have the duty to attempt to find out who allegedly committed it. This means they set out to question anyone who they believe was in the vicinity of the alleged crime site at the time the crime allegedly took place. They call these people “persons of interest,” meaning that while they are not yet suspects against whom officers have gathered evidence, they nevertheless are potential suspects.
It is this potentiality aspect that gets innocent people into trouble. If, for instance, officers ask you to come down to the station and make a statement as to what you saw and heard at an alleged crime scene, your first instinct may be to accede to their request since you know you did nothing wrong and you would like to help them with their investigation. While laudable, however, such motives are naive on your part. Even if officers do not actively suspect that you had anything to do with the alleged crime, you could innocently reveal something that may cause them to change their minds.
It is precisely this situation in which your Miranda rights are the most crucial. If you feel compelled to do your civic duty by speaking with the officers, speak first with an attorney and hire him or her to accompany you to the police station and remain in the room with you the entire time. The Founding Fathers recognized that only an attorney can protect your rights when police officers interrogate you. The Supreme Court Justices likewise recognized that attorney assistance in such a situation is one of your basic rights. For your own self-interests and protection, you should avail yourself of an attorney any time you speak with law enforcement officers.