Right to remain silent not understood by many suspects

Movies and TV shows often depict crime with a police officer handcuffing a suspect and warning him that he has the right to remain silent. While those warnings may appear clear-cut, almost 1 million criminal cases may be compromised each year in the United States because suspects don't understand their constitutional rights, according to research presented at the 119th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

"The public, police and sometimes courts wrongly believe that people in custody understand their rights," said Richard Rogers, PhD, a at the University of North Texas. "Some offenders are street-wise and legally sophisticated, but far more have a limited and often erroneous understanding of Miranda warnings and the underlying constitutional safeguards."

The police statement advising a suspect of his or her rights is called a Miranda warning and stems from the 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona. The Supreme Court ruled that suspects in police custody must be informed of their right to remain silent because of the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination. Suspects also must be told they have a right to an attorney and that an attorney will be appointed if they can't afford to hire one.

Rogers analyzed research on Miranda warnings for an article to be published in APA's flagship journal, , in November 2011. Based on his analysis of nationwide statistics of 9.2 million arrests in 2009, he estimates that 976,000 arrests, or 10 percent of the cases, were compromised by problems with Miranda warnings. That estimate includes 360,000 arrests of adults with mental health disorders; 305,000 arrests of adults without ; and 311,000 juvenile arrests.

More than 800 different versions of Miranda warnings are used by police agencies across the
United States, and the warnings vary in reading level from second grade to a post-college level, Rogers said. Defendants often assume they know their rights so they don't listen, and the warnings aren't explained well by police, he said. As a result, defendants often wrongly believe their silence can be used against them in court.

Rogers devised a survey with true-or-false questions about Miranda warnings that was completed by 119 college undergraduate students and 149 pretrial defendants at jails in Texas and Oklahoma. It showed 31 percent of the defendants and 36 percent of the undergraduates wrongly believed that their silence could be used as incriminating evidence at trial.

Other misperceptions abound, with many people believing that police can keep interrogating a defendant even though he has requested an attorney but is still waiting for the attorney to arrive, Rogers said.

Some defendants also don't realize detectives can lie during questioning and claim eyewitnesses or other evidence implicates the defendant in an attempt to get him to start talking, according to his presentation. "These false beliefs strike at the heart of highly valued constitutional rights," Rogers said.

Rogers doesn't believe that a compromised case necessarily means charges should be dismissed. To comply with requirements from the Supreme Court, those cases should be reviewed to ascertain whether defendants knowingly and intelligently waived their rights after a Miranda warning, Rogers said. The language of the warning also should be simplified, and suspects should be told to read it aloud and explain it in their own words to make sure they understand it, he said.

While repeat offenders may not pay attention to a public information campaign about Miranda warnings, it could help first-time offenders, Rogers said. Professionals in the criminal justice field also need to recognize common false beliefs about Miranda warnings that could jeopardize defendants' rights, he added.

"Constitutional safeguards are further imperiled when attorneys, judges and forensic evaluators are lulled into complacency by the commonly held misconception that everyone understands their Miranda rights," Rogers said.

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Citation: Right to remain silent not understood by many suspects (2011, August 5) retrieved 27 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2011-08-silent-understood.html
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Aug 05, 2011
Ah - America... Land of the free, home of the brave.. self-incriminating suspects ;P

Aug 05, 2011
The disturbing number I find in this article: 9.2 MILLION arrests.
Are we criminals then or are the laws bad?

First, it didn't say that's even the total number of arrests in a year.

Second, keep in mind a significant portion of those arrests are probably multiple arrests of 1 person over the course of a year.

Third, not everyone who is placed under arrest is guilty.

Fourth, yes we are criminals and yes, there are lots of "bad laws".


Aug 05, 2011
Uh, given what is shown on 'Reality TV', a remarkable number of people just ignore the 'Miranda' caution and scream incoherent abuse.
If such can be claimed as 'failure to understand rights', then few *will* go quietly...

Aug 05, 2011
Uh, given what is shown on 'Reality TV', a remarkable number of people just ignore the 'Miranda' caution and scream incoherent abuse.
If such can be claimed as 'failure to understand rights', then few *will* go quietly...

I strongly suspect selection bias. People who go without drama would be less likely to be shown on TV. Drama sells.

Aug 05, 2011
Any reasonable citizen should be aware of their rights, whether they're being arrested or not. The reading of the Miranda Rights is just a legal assurance for the court's and State's Attorney's benefit. It is by no means meant to be an education for the ignorant. I mean seriously, is this researcher actually suggesting that an arrest be transformed into a personal seminar in the dangers of self-incrimination??? I think he's missed the point. By a country mile. Wowser.

Aug 06, 2011
Obviously whoever did this study isn't very knowledgeable in the law. Silence can be used against. Maybe not in determining the facts but it will be used against you in a determination of law.

It's called silent acquiescence or tacit acceptance. Failure to object is evidence of agreement.

The word "understand" in legalese doesn't mean comprehend . It means agree.

AN example is this. Failure to object to a defect in service of process waives personal jurisdiction. Taking bail or personal recognizance waives the right to make a counter affidavit. Taking a plea without objection waives your right to a show cause hearing.

Their assumptions are just plain wrong. Silence will be used against you . Just not as evidence of guilt. It will be used against you to skip and circumvent legal and lawful defenses to your actions. I could list bout 50 more instance where silence will straight up hang you.

Aug 06, 2011
Another cause for some of these numbers may be police intentionally misleading suspects in order to trick them into either admitting guilt or saying something which could be construed as admission of guilt. As much as I admire most police and their dedication to protecting other citizens, there are unfortunately a lot of rather predatory individuals who get into the job because they enjoy either bullying, berating and beating people, or ruining their lives. Also to be considered is that having a high arrest/conviction rate is rewarded with promotion and therefore higher standard of living, so there is actually lots of incentive for a police officer to lie, if they happen to have been born with defective morals. Just sayin... no disrespect! :-P

Aug 07, 2011
What's missing in these statistics are the white collar criminals who've gotten away scot-free with fleecing the pension funds of little old ladies and others and destroying the world's economy. They know their rights, alright- they won't be touched by the long arm of the law. But a two-bit street hustler? He's going to make a pile of dough for the entrepreneurs of the privatized jail business.

Aug 08, 2011
I love articles with statistics to show how utterly screwed the USA is, and then even more evidence in the comments in the form of A-Idiots, and B-Non idiots with even more data on how it's already a forgone conclusion.

I love how economists just keep saying the old mantra of "It's fine, it's fine, go back to bed America. Here! Watch some American Gladitors!" - Anyone with even a basic understanding of modern economic theory can tell they are flat out lying.

I'm a little giddy from laughing too much at this situation.

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