Understanding the Miranda warning and what it means to you

The Miranda warning, sometimes referred to as your Miranda rights, is a warning police give to criminal suspects after they are taken into custody.

The purpose of the Miranda warning depends on whether you are the law enforcement officer or the suspect. From a suspect's point of view, it is to remind you that you have a 5th Amendment right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. From an officer's point of view, it is to help preserve the admissibility of your statements in a criminal proceeding.

As we repeatedly tell our members, the police are not necessarily your enemy. But after a self defense shooting, they are not your friend either. So what you say can have serious consequences.

The exact wording of the Miranda warning differs from place to place. Every jurisdiction has its own rules on what an officer must say to you when you have been arrested or taken into custody. However, here are the typical elements:

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.
  • If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
  • Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

This seems pretty straightforward, but like most legal issues, it is not. There are plenty of variations and exceptions depending on the situation. While we could try to explain this in detail, we think it's best to keep things simple. After all, you're not a lawyer. And in the minutes and hours after a self defense shooting, you're likely to be confused and unable to make sound decisions.

In layman's terms, you should assume that if an officer is reading you a Miranda warning, it's likely that you are suspected of doing something illegal and that police will be paying very close attention to what you say and do from that point forward. Your words and actions could become part of the evidence used to convict you of whatever you are suspected of doing.

You don't have to talk if you choose not to. And you can hold off speaking to police until after you've spoken to a lawyer. This doesn't mean you just stand there in total silence. But you should avoid saying anything more than the bare minimum. In our member training we advise that you say no more than this:

  • Officer, this person attacked me.
  • I will sign the complaint.
  • Here is the evidence (whatever tool the assailant used to attack you).
  • These are the witnesses (if there are any).
  • You will have my full cooperation within 24 hours after I meet with my attorney. Until then, I wish to assert my 5th Amendment right and remain silent.

However, considering the amount of adrenaline pumping through your veins at this moment, even saying this could backfire if you start babbling about being attacked and pointing out evidence.

In short, the Miranda warning is just that, a WARNING. You could be in trouble so don't start talking and make it worse. When in doubt, shut up. Even if you're desperately wanting to talk, shut up anyway. There is very little, if anything, you can say that will help you. Most of what you say could hurt you.

So, what does the Miranda warning mean to you? SHUT UP!