If you enjoy movies and TV shows featuring good guys against bad guys, you probably have heard fictional law enforcement officers give the Miranda warning to people they arrest. But while you may know the Miranda warning by heart, you likely fail to recognize its potential importance in your own life.

To review, the Miranda warning contains a recitation of your following four basic rights when facing criminal prosecution:

  1. You have the right to remain silent.
  2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
  3. You have the right to an attorney.
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

If you think, however, that officers must inform you of these rights any time they wish to question you, think again. They must “read you your rights” only at the point when they arrest you, not before. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed this loophole when it decided Miranda v. Arizona in 1966. This means that officers have every right to attempt to obtain information from you prior to your arrest without informing you that they can and most likely will use whatever you voluntarily tell them against you. This is why you should never voluntarily give officers anything other than your identifying information without having your attorney present.

You are well within your rights to respectfully decline to answer officers’ questions. The Miranda warning itself may not apply, but your constitutional rights do. In fact, you have three of them as follows:

  1. Your right to remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures by government officials as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment
  2. Your right against self-incrimination as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment
  3. Your right to assistance of legal counsel whenever you face the possibility of having criminal charges brought against you as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

Bottom line, these constitutional rights and your Miranda rights that flow from them represent your first line of defense against over-zealous law enforcement officers.