Federal Terrorism Prosecution Sheds Light on Defendants’ Miranda Rights

The so-called "underwear bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges last month, putting to rest a nearly two-year long investigation and prosecution.

Controversy erupted early on in the investigation when it was revealed that the FBI only questioned Abdulmutallab for 50 minutes before reading him his Miranda rights. Many commentators criticized the FBI and the Obama administration for treating Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect instead of as an enemy combatant. However, the administration voiced its commitment to prosecuting terrorism suspects in federal court and said it worried that the prosecution could be jeopardized if Abdulmutallab's civil rights were not properly observed.

Much of the administration's fear arose from the fact that a criminal defendant's statements and admissions may not be used at trial if the defendant has not been read his or her rights and informed of the opportunity to remain silent and contact a Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer.

When Do Miranda Rights Apply?

A common misconception is that Miranda rights come into play whenever a person is talking to the police. This is not true. Police are only required to advise a person of his or her Miranda rights if that person is a suspect in a crime and has been formally taken into police custody. Miranda rights do not apply to witnesses or other non-suspects.

For legal purposes, people will be deemed to have been taken into police custody whenever their freedom of action has been significantly compromised. For all practical purposes, this usually means being arrested. If suspects make incriminating statements before they are taken into custody, those statements can be used at trial, even if the suspects have not been read their rights.

Another common misconception is that suspects must be read their rights immediately upon arrest. Again, this is not true. Miranda rights only come into play during police interrogation. Anything suspects say before interrogation can be used against them in court. It's important to note that requests for identification don't count as interrogation. Generally speaking, people are required to tell police officers their real name and provide identification if requested.

Finally, just because police haven't informed a suspect of his or her Miranda rights doesn't mean the case will automatically be thrown out or the suspect won't be convicted. Failing to read suspects their Miranda rights only prevents the suspects' statements from being admitted as evidence. It doesn't prevent admission of other incriminating information such as witness testimony or physical evidence.

If you are taken into custody and questioned by the police, don't be intimidated into giving up your rights. You should always invoke your right to remain silent and you never answer any questions without an experienced criminal defense attorney present.