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“You have the right to remain silent…”

Almost everyone has heard these words and everything that follows them at least a few times — they’re repeated often enough on television shows and in movies and they’re often taught in schools as part of government classes ever since the Supreme Court ruled that police officers have to remind people in their custody about certain rights before proceeding with an interrogation.

Unfortunately, many people still don’t really understand how Miranda warnings and police interrogations work — and that leads to some big problems for defendants. Here are some of the most important things that everyone should know and remember if they ever find themselves confronted by the police:

1. If you aren’t in police custody, you aren’t entitled to a Miranda warning

Most people believe that they have to be given their Miranda warnings as soon as they are considered a suspect by police and before the police ask them any questions. In reality, the police are only required to give you the warning if you are being detained. If you aren’t being detained, they can ask you anything they want.

What actually equals “being detained” often becomes a point of contention in criminal trials. Among other things, people may believe they are in police custody when they really have the right to leave.

2. The absence of a Miranda warning won’t get your case dismissed

Police can’t use any evidence they obtained as the result of questioning you unless they gave you a Miranda warning — but they can use any other evidence they have. In fact, if they never asked you any questions about your crime, then they may not have been required to even give you the Miranda warning.

3. The police may try to get you to waive your right to stay silent

Even after you’ve been given your Miranda warning, the police may try to get you to talk to them voluntarily. If you do, you waive your rights and they are free to use anything you say against you — and they will.

If you’re ever in a situation where this information becomes important, focus on this: your best defense in any criminal case is your silence. The only person you should talk to is your attorney.