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Miranda Warnings

In California, drivers arrested for DUI are typically read their rights before being taken into custody. These rights are referred to as a Miranda warning - a name that stems from the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Miranda vs. Arizona decision. If police fail to read a suspected drunk driver his or her rights prior to questioning, any information obtained during the interview can be suppressed by an experienced DUI attorney.

The Supreme Court did not specify the exact wording of the Miranda warning in its decision. Instead, police have created a set of statements that are read to suspects prior to questioning. Police usually use the following statement to advise people of their constitutional rights: 

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present now and during any future questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you at no cost."

Any criminal suspect about to be questioned by police must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he or she has the right to remain silent. The statement about the right to remain silent must be accompanied by the information that anything said can and will be used against the individual in court.

Drivers questioned by police must be informed that they have the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the attorney present during interrogation. Police must also inform the driver that if he or she cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed at no cost.

If the driver tells police that he or she wants to consult with an attorney, any questioning must stop until the lawyer is present. The individual must have an opportunity to confer with the attorney, and to have that individual present during any subsequent questioning. If drivers who cannot obtain an attorney indicate that one is wanted before speaking to police, investigators must respect the decision to remain silent.

However, a Miranda warning isn't required before someone is arrested. The purpose of the Miranda warning is to protect suspects from making incriminating statements during interrogation. The only thing police need to legally arrest a person is a probable cause - a reasonable belief that the individual has committed a crime. Police must read the Miranda warning only before interrogating a suspect.

Even if police question a suspect without reading a Miranda warning, the arrest itself may still be valid. However, any statements made during questioning likely will be suppressed. This excludes routine questions such as name, address, and date of birth. Police can also administer alcohol and drug tests without issuing a Miranda warning, but drivers being tested may refuse to answer questions.

Miranda warnings govern only communication. A Miranda rights violation cannot result in the exclusion of physical evidence. Also, the police officer can testify about the way in which a statement was made without repeating the statement. For example, if the defendant had slurred speech or seemed disoriented, the officer may note these facts.

The central Miranda rights issue in California DUI cases is whether the defendant was actually under arrest when any incriminating statements were made. Generally, statements made prior to arrest are not subject to Miranda rules. Pre-arrest questions are typically investigative in nature and normally occur during relatively brief traffic stops. Answers to questions such as "Where have you been?" or "Have you been drinking?" are typically admissible in California DUI case.

Traffic stops and field sobriety tests do not constitute arrest, and, therefore Miranda warnings are not required. The privilege against self-incrimination only protects a driver against giving testimony against his or herself, and does not protect the accused from giving real or physical evidence. Field-sobriety tests are physical evidence, not testimonial evidence, and do not violate the privilege against self-incrimination.

Police are trained to ask many questions and obtain as much information as possible before an arrest takes place. Police do this to ensure that any statements will be admissible. However, some officers have been known to cross the line. If police ask questions after arrest without advising a driver of his or her Miranda rights, any responses likely will be inadmissible. A California criminal defense lawyer who focuses on DUI defense will make a motion to have any such statements suppressed.

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