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Deciding Alford v. Texas: A Gray Area for Miranda Rights?

Most of us are familiar with the landmark case Miranda v. Arizona. “Miranda” rights are read by a police officer to suspects in custody that they intend to question, and usually begin with “You have the right to remain silent…” (click link to read full Miranda warning).

These warnings are a summary of our 5th and 6th Amendment rights, and are essential to know and be able to exercise. The Fifth Amendment safeguards against self-incrimination, and the 6th Amendment gives us the right to an attorney. Being arrested can be very stressful and intimidating. Knowing that you have the right to remain silent can help ease some of this stress. So can getting advice from a lawyer. Just about any person in the legal field will tell you not to speak to police officers without first obtaining valuable legal advice. This can give you some clarity and help you through the scary process of being arrested, questioned, or detained.

These rights are read to us upon arrest so that we can properly exercise them. However, these rights are not as broadly applicable as we may believe. Certain exceptions exist, as illustrated in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Alford v. Texas, which is currently being decided.

In this recent case, Alford, the appellant, argued that this exception to Miranda could potentially allow officers to reframe incriminating questions as “routine booking questions,” and therefore be exempt from Miranda restrictions. The Texas court of Appeals ultimately denied his appeal and upheld this exception. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently deliberating, and a final opinion will be published on July 12, 2012.

The justices’ decisions can have serious implications. This decision could cause big changes to Miranda, and its perceived power of protection. Many of us can’t immediately tell what is a “routine booking question,” and what is not, or how to answer. If you are arrested and read your Miranda rights, assert them. Do not be intimidated into answering any questions that you are not comfortable with, you cannot be punished for exercising a right to remain silent. Also, request an attorney and politely explain that you don’t want to submit to any procedures until you are permitted to consult with one.

Being arrested for a DUI can be scary and cause high levels of stress and anxiety. The new changes in the law make it even easier for an officer to potentially solicit incriminating information from you while NOT violating Miranda. Therefore it is essential that you be aware of this changing legal landscape and assert your rights: specifically, invoking a right to remain silent and requesting an attorney before and after an arrest. If you’re ever in this type of situation, it is always better to get legal advice and protect yourself throughout the process than to wish later that you had. So stay tuned on this Supreme Court decision, and know your rights!

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