What are Miranda Warnings?

Miranda warnings protect a person’s right against self-incrimination. Namely, it requires police to give a suspect the following warnings before police ask a person in custody any questions:

  1. You have the right to remain silent and not make any statements;
  2. Anything you say to police can be used against you in a court of law;
  3. You have the right to the presence of an attorney; and
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for you prior to any questioning if you so desire.

Consequently, if police do not read a suspect these Miranda warnings, then the prosecutors cannot use the suspect’s confession at trial. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 439 (1966).

What is “custodial interrogation”?

Custodial interrogation happens when police question a suspect who is in police custody. Further, a person formally arrested is in “custody” for Miranda purposes. Similarly, if police restrain a person to a degree similar to an arrest, then this person is also in “custody” for Miranda purposes. Accordingly, the police must then read the suspect his Miranda rights before they ask him any questions.

In contrast, if a suspect is not in “custody,” then police do not have to read him his Miranda rights. A common example is a traffic stop. A traffic stop is a temporary seizure under the Fourth Amendment. But it does not qualify as being in police “custody” under the Fifth Amendment. This is why police can ask a suspected-drunk driver how much he drank before he started driving. Worst of all, the driver’s answers will hurt him in his DWI trial.

Going from non-custody to custody.

This distinction matters for another reason. Sometimes a non-custodial encounter can turn into custodial interrogation. If this happens, then police must read the suspect his Miranda rights for the reasons we discussed above. If police do not read the suspect his Miranda rights, then the suspect can file a motion to suppress his confession.

On a different note, our Miranda rights raise an interesting question. If people have a right to remain silent, why do so many people confess to crimes they did or did not commit. Let’s answer this question next.

Why do people confess to crimes?

Suspects confess because police do two things. First, they put pressure on suspects to waive their Miranda rights. Second, police pressure suspects to answer questions without a lawyer. In fact, police have a specific procedure they use during interrogations–the Reid Technique.

But the truly heartbreaking part of a confession is the strength of this type of evidence in court. When a suspect confesses, he becomes his own worst enemy. The Supreme Court recognizes this reality:

A confession is like no other evidence. Indeed, the defendant’s own confession is probably the most probative and damaging evidence that can be admitted against him. . . . The admissions of a defendant come from the actor himself, the most knowledgeable and unimpeachable source of information about his past conduct.

Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 296 (1991).

That is, confessing to a crime does not make sense. The suspect is literally testifying against himself. This is the essence of self-incrimination. Unfortunately, suspects confess to crimes everyday in America. And as a criminal defense attorney in San Antonio, this is completely frustrating.

Next, to get a better understanding of how this happens, we need to discuss how the Reid Technique works.

What is the Reid Technique?

The Reid Technique is a nine-step procedure police use to interrogate suspects. Police use this method to pressure a suspect to waive his Miranda rights and confess to the crime. In fact, this approach lets police lie to a suspect during the interrogation:

We do approve . . . of psychological tactics and techniques that may involve trickery and deceit; they are not only helpful but frequently indispensable in order to secure incriminating information from the guilty or to obtain investigative leads from otherwise uncooperative witnesses or informants.

Fred E. Inbau, John E. Reid, Joseph P. Buckley & Brian C. Jayne, CRIMINAL INTERROGATIONS AND CONFESSIONS xii (4th ed. 2004) (Emphasis added).

In other words, police are not honest with suspects during the interrogation. Furthermore, police use this dishonesty to apply emotional and psychological pressure on the suspect. Now, let’s discuss the nine-steps of the Reid Technique.

What are the 9 Steps of the Reid Interrogation Technique?

How Police Obtain a Confession from a Suspect.

  1. The detective confronts the suspect.

    Police tell the suspect they know he is guilty: “Our investigation shows there is no doubt you committed the crime. And, I want to sit down with you to get this straightened out.”

  2. The detective uses themes during the questioning.

    A good theme allows the suspect to shift blame for his actions. For example, if the suspect is accused of a bank robbery, the officer may say: “You lost your job, you were about to be evicted from your apartment, and you needed to feed your family…robbing the bank was a way to fix these problems.”

  3. The detective deflects the suspect’s denials of guilt.

    If a suspect tells the detective he is innocent, then the officer repeats Step 1. To illustrate, the officer may tell the suspect “our investigation shows you did the crime . . . the only question we have left is why you did it?”

  4. Police sidestep the suspect’s objections.

    Objections are different from the denials in Step 3. A denial is when the suspect tells the officer he is innocent. In contrast, an objection is the suspect’s reason of why the police are wrong. To demonstrate, a suspect may tell the officer he did not commit armed robbery because he does not own a gun. The officer response embraces this concern: “I hope that’s true” or “I’m glad you mentioned that.” In short, the officer rolls with the objection and pushes it back towards his theme.

  5. The detective must keep the suspect’s attention.

    Step 5 happens when the suspect tunes out the detective. At this point, the detective may slowly move his chair closer to the suspect. He may also use evidence like bullet casings or photo lineups. Also, the detective maintains eye contact with the suspect.

  6. The detective exploits the suspect’s mood.

    At this point, the suspect will start giving up hope. The detective then turns his questions towards the reasons for the crime. He will urge the suspect to tell the truth “for the sake of everybody involved.”

  7. The detective asks the suspect a loaded question.

    This question gives a suspect two choices: “Did you use the money from the bank robbery to buy drugs or to support your family?” It allows the suspect to admit to the crime for an honorable reason. At this point, the suspect will likely admit guilt.

  8. The suspect describes the details of the crime.

    The detective will ask the suspect questions to corroborate his confession.

  9. Police turn the verbal confession into a written statement.

    The officer writes down the suspect’s statement. The suspect signs the statement.

This is a summary of the Reid Technique. It is a very powerful tool that helps police get a confession from a suspect. Now, let’s consider the interrogation room.

How police use interrogation rooms to get a suspect to confess?

Interrogations usually happen in a police station. They are also tape recorded. And, if you watch the news, then you have seen videos of a person in an interrogation room confessing to a crime. Indeed, the videos of the interrogation rooms all look similar. The picture below illustrates this point.

Interrogation Room
The room is approximately 10×10. The suspect is seated on the right at the edge of a desk. The officer is seated on the left in front of the desk. Notably, the officer spaces himself about four feet away from the suspect. The walls are bland colored and have no windows. This is designed to make the suspect forget he is in a police station. Most importantly, the rooms are created to keep the suspect from thinking about the consequences of confessing to a crime.

Police design these rooms to create a sense of privacy and avoid distractions. Above all, privacy is the key. It allows police to use the Reid Technique on suspects. In other words, interrogation rooms help police create the right atmosphere for the interrogation.

San Antonio Miranda Rights Criminal Defense.

So what’s the bottom line on Miranda rights? If a police officer or detective reads you your Miranda rights, then ask for a lawyer and remain silent. This is the advise I give to all my clients. And it does not matter whether they are guilty or innocent. Otherwise, you are simply asking for trouble.

For instance, if you are innocent of a crime, but lie to federal agents to protect a family member or loved one, then you can be charged with making a false statement. On the other hand, if you are guilty, then police will put unfair pressure on you to confess to the crime. Either way you look at it, your best bet is to ask for an attorney. Once you meet with your attorney, then both of you can work together on a defense strategy. Finally, the best part of your Miranda rights is that they are free. All you have to do is invoke them.

Genaro R. Cortez
San Antonio Criminal Defense Attorney