To eliminate widespread abusive and coercive practices by police to secure confessions from suspects during custodial interrogations, the United States Supreme Court announced a new rule in the famous case called Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).
Under the Miranda rule, a suspect’s statement during a custodial interrogation is not admissible unless the prosecution presents evidence that the statement was voluntarily given after the suspect was advised of his rights and agreed to waive them.
Y’all should know them by heart, but here they are in case you may have forgotten them:
You have the right to remain silent;
Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law;
You have the right to an attorney;
If you cannot afford an attorney, the Court will appoint one to represent you at public expense.
The Right to Remain Silent
The right to remain silent comes from the Fifth Amendment, which states:
No person shall be compelled to testify against himself.
Notice that the so-called Compulsion Clause prohibits the use of any threats, physical acts, or punishment to force a suspect to give a statement. The right to remain silent may be asserted at any time, including at trial. Defendants who elect not to testify at trial, are entitled to have the trial court instruct the jury that it cannot consider silence for any purpose, including guilt. This instruction recognizes that silence is insoluble because there may be any number of reasons why a defendant may decide not to testify.
The Right to Counsel
The Sixth Amendment is the source for the right to counsel. For example, in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), the Supreme Court held via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that the states must appoint and pay for counsel representing indigent defendants.
A “waiver” in the legal system is a formal way of stating that a person has acknowledged that he has an important right or privilege and has decided to give it up. Waivers of constitutional rights are invalid absent a showing that the decision was knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made.
The Exclusionary Rule
The Exclusionary Rule is the remedy for a violation of the Miranda Rule. Pursuant to this rule, statements obtained by police from suspects during custodial interrogations are not admissible during the prosecution’s case in chief at trial, unless the police have complied with the Miranda Rule.
However, if the defendant testifies during the defense case and his testimony conflicts with his custodial statement, the statement may be admitted into evidence so long as it was voluntarily given.
One of the biggest problems facing the defense is the number of lengthy and detailed statements that George Zimmerman gave to the police. The statements are internally inconsistent as well as inconsistent with each other. Some of the statements appear to contain provable lies. Unless the defense can persuade the Court to exclude his statements, George Zimmerman may not have much of a chance to win his case.
To evaluate the likelihood that his statements will be admitted, follow this guideline with respect to each statement:
Was the statement obtained during a custodial interrogation?
There are two parts to this question. The first part distinguishes custodial statements from non-custodial statements. Custodial statements require Miranda warnings because they are inherently coercive. Non-custodial statements are not as coercive because the suspect is free to terminate the contact with the police at any time and walk away. The courts apply an objective test to determine whether a suspect is in custody. That is, given the totality of the circumstances, would a reasonable person in the same situation have believed he was free to leave?
If the answer is “yes,” the police are not required to Mirandize a suspect and the statement is admissible, so long as it was voluntarily given.
If the answer is “yes,” the statement is not admissible unless the police advised him of his rights, he acknowledged that he was advised, and he agreed to waive those rights knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.
I believe the prosecution may argue that Zimmerman was free to leave and therefore, under the totality of the circumstances, all of the statements were non-custodial, voluntary, and admissible.
Prosecutors generally advise police to delay placing a suspect under arrest so that they can question him in the field under non-coercive circumstances without having to first Mirandize him.
Obviously, the more coercive the circumstances, the more likely the Court will require advice and waiver of Miranda rights before admitting a statement into evidence.
Mirandizing suspects is the safest way to go and I believe the police probably complied with the requirements of Miranda, even though he may been free to leave. We will have to wait and see if the defense moves to exclude his statements.
I do not see any evidence that Zimmerman’s statements were involuntary. He appears to have been eager to talk to the police. For example, he called the prosecutor’s office and tried to speak to Angela Corey about his case, but she was not available. His call was transferred to Bernie de la Rionda, who insisted on talking only to his lawyer. Zimmerman said he did not have a lawyer at that time, but de la Rionda still refused to talk to him and terminated the call.
Bernie de la Rionda’s insistence on talking only to Zimmerman’s lawyer was in compliance with ethical rules.