What the Miranda warning can and cannot do

The Miranda warning can help people accused or suspected of crimes. It is important, however, to understand exactly how it works.

Most people in North Carolina have at least heard of the Miranda warning. They have also likely heard snippets of it in movies or television shows. The commonly utilized phrase beginning with "You have the right to remain silent" informs suspects of their choice to answer police questions or not.

However, there is more to this law than what may seem. The protection offered by the Miranda warning is not automatic at all. Persons wishing to abstain from law enforcement questioning must directly and verbally indicate their wishes. The choice to simply remain silent does not invoke this law and leaves suspects vulnerable.

In these cases, any word or phrase uttered, any body language or facial gesture can be used during subsequent criminal proceedings by prosecutors. A decision made by the United States Supreme Court just last year solidified this.


As noted on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's website, there is only one exception to the Miranda warning and that involves any situation in which public safety is deemed to be at risk. Examples include the attempted bombings of a commercial flight in 2009 and in Times Square New York in 2010.


Beyond the requirement that suspects must request the use of the Miranda warning and the public safety exception, following are the basic elements of the law and its use:

  • The full warning must be read by law enforcement to suspects before any questions can be asked.
  • People can initially answer questions and then choose to stop so long as they clearly state this change of position.
  • Officers must respect any request to not answer questions and cease questioning that may be in progress.
  • Suspects can still be arrested even if they choose to invoke the Miranda warning.
  • Arrests can be made before the warning has been read or any questions asked.

Additionally, basic biographical data such as full names and addresses still have to be given to authorities even if using the Miranda warning.


Whether accused of drunk driving, drug crimes or other offenses, our legal and judicial systems provide protection for all persons. The Miranda warning is one form of protection that can be helpful to people facing serious accusations or charges. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can also be an important component to receiving the right treatment when in such situations.

Keywords: Miranda warning, arrest, charges