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The purpose and timing of the Miranda warning

While on-screen crime dramas may lead you to believe that officers usually read people the Miranda warning at the time of arrest, this actually isn't always the case. While some officers may choose to do this in case the defendant says something self-incriminating before questioning has officially begun, the Miranda warning just has to be read to the defendant before police interrogation.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution protects all U.S. citizens' right to remain silent and refuse to answer any questions that may be self-incriminating. The only answer you must provide is your correct name. The Miranda warning also includes your right to have an attorney and the right to stop after beginning to answer questions and to ask for an attorney at any point in the process.

Even if the answers would not be self-incriminating, it is in your best interests to invoke your right to an attorney and wait for the attorney before answering any questions. It's not always clear how an answer may affect the overall case, but an attorney has the knowledge and legal experience to help you know when it's OK to answer or when it's better to refuse.

The police questioning is one of the most important parts of the investigation for the prosecution, and officers will try multiple methods to try to get defendants to admit to crimes and give self-incriminating answers or to try to find holes or contradictions in the defendant's account of the events. Retaining legal counsel before the questioning begins can ensure you know what to expect and help your defense.

Source: FindLaw, "FAQs: Police Interrogations," accessed June 25, 2015

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