Through movies, television and news stories, most people are vaguely aware that there is some law requiring police officers to “read criminal suspects their rights.” But what exactly does that mean, and what are the consequences if the police fail to do so?

The rights referred to are those required by the “Miranda warning”:

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

This reading of rights is referred to as the ‘Miranda warning’ because it was imposed by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, decided in 1966. The justices of the Court had faced years of appellate litigation concerning cases where criminal suspects alleged that they had been coerced into making a false confession to the crime charged. The Supreme Court therefore imposed the Miranda warning to help reduce the likelihood of false confessions being obtained by coercion in the future.

However, failure to read a suspect the Miranda warning does not automatically entitle a defendant to a dismissal of charges against him. Rather, failure to read these rights merely prevents the admissibility, at trial, of statements he made to the police after the Miranda warning should have been given. Moreover, police are not always required to read the Miranda warning whenever they question any suspect in a criminal investigation. The rule only applies to “custodial interrogations.” The Idaho Supreme Court has defined a “custodial interrogation” as follows:

“The requirement of giving a Miranda Warning is triggered by a custodial interrogation. State v. Ybarra, 102 Idaho 573, 576, 634 P.2d 435, 438 (1981); State v. Medrano, 123 Idaho 114, 117, 844 P.2d 1364, 1367 (Ct.App.1992). The test for determining whether questioning is custodial or merely investigative is whether the person is in custody or is deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way. State v. McCurdy, 100 Idaho 683, 685, 603 P.2d 1017, 1019 (1979); State v. Bainbridge, 117 Idaho 245, 248–49, 787 P.2d 231, 234–35 (1990).”

State v. Loosli, 130 Idaho 398, 399, 941 P.2d 1299, 1300 (1997)