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Miranda Rights and Your DUI Arrest

Interviewer: With Miranda rights: when do they come in to play and do clients often think that because they weren’t read their Miranda right, they’re going to have their case dismissed?

Phil Wormdahl: I would say that there’s a misconception among the public about what the significance is of not having the Miranda read to you. Very frequently people will make a point to say, “The officer never read me my rights.” Miranda is a pretty interesting part of the law.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

You always have the right to remain silent. You never have to incriminate yourself and for the most part, you don’t need to talk to the police. So that being said, even though you always hold that right no matter where you are or what’s happening to you, there’s only a certain time when the police have to remind you that you have that right. And that’s what Miranda is.

You Must Hear the Miranda Rights When You Are in Custodial Interrogation and Are Being Questioned by Law Enforcement

In the case of the Miranda rights, when the police are obliged to tell you them is when you’re subjected to what is called a custodial interrogation. Interrogation means that you’re being questioned. You’re either being asked questions or the police are making statements to you that a reasonable person would expect to elicit a response.

There Is a Difference in Being Detained versus Being in a Custodial Interrogation

The definition of custodial is a little bit tricky. Custodial means you’re in custody. Now custody is this grey area. If the officer puts his cuffs on you then you’re under arrest then it’s a safe bet that you’re in custody at that point. If he start’s asking you questions then you’re being subjected to a custodial interrogation. On the flip side, if the officer just pulls you over and walks up to the car and asks, “Where are you going tonight? Have you had anything to drink?” You’re probably not in custody at that point. In fact in Utah, you’re almost certainly not in custody at that point.

You’re detained and detained is a legal term. It means that basically you’re not free to leave. You can’t just drive away when an officer pulls you over. But although you’re detained, you’re not in custody. So custody is just this gray area where all sorts of factual factors can come into play. The factors include if an officer is in plain clothes or uniform; whether or not there’s more than one officer; where are you, are you inside or out of your car; are you in the police officer’s car; have they driven you to the station; and are you in handcuffs.

What you need to remember in the DUI context is that if an officer fails to read you your Miranda rights when they hit that moment of custodial interrogation or before they hit that moment of custodial interrogation – all it really does is it just means that they can’t use your statements against you.

If You Are Not Read the Miranda Rights, It Does Not Mean the Charges Will Be Dismissed

So if you’re in custody, you’re handcuffed, you’re in the back seat of the police officer’s car, you’re placed under arrest and the police officer has not read you your Miranda rights – he has not “mirandized” you as lawyers or judges might say and they ask you a question like, “Are you too drunk to drive?” and you say, “Yes,” then that statement most likely wouldn’t be admissible against you in court.

They could not use that statement against you to prove that you were too drunk to drive safely, because that would have been taken contrary to your rights, under Miranda. The officers have an obligation to remind you of that right that you already know and always have. But that’s the only significance. It’s just that those statements couldn’t be used against you.

Most Evidence Used against You in a DUI Case Is Gathered Prior to Your Arrest

Quite often in a DUI case, the evidence that’s going to be used against you in court is going to be obtained by the officer before you are in custody; before they subject you to an interrogation, or despite an interrogation.  So for example, if you blow into a breath machine the machine isn’t interrogating you. It’s not asking you whether or not you’re drunk, that’s something separate.

As an Example, Evidence from a Breath Test Device Can Be More Damaging Than Answering Police Questions

The breath test could be the subject of an entirely different discussion about DUI, but it just doesn’t fall under the gambit of Miranda. As you might guess a breath test with a result over the legal limit is going to be much more damaging to you in court and much more significant for a prosecutor to use against you than a statement like, “Oh I’m drunk.”

So in the DUI context, Miranda is something of a red herring. Sometimes it really matters and sometimes it’s nice to keep those post-custody answers to questions out of court because it is important to protect your rights. But frequently in a DUI case, the most damaging evidence against you is not your statements post-Miranda, and so often officers don’t even read Miranda on DUI cases. This is because they have a breath-test over the legal limit and they may not even feel like they need to ask you whether or not you’re you’ve been drinking, or whether or not you’re drunk. So it just doesn’t even come up.