In recent years, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, has issued several opinions addressing whether a defendant’s statements are admissible when made to law enforcement in the absence of “Miranda warnings.” These cases have similar features: a defendant made a personally incriminating statement; raised an appeal arguing that Miranda warnings should have been, but were not, read to him or her; and the Court—in many cases—determined that the defendant was not technically in police custody, and thus there was no requirement to recite Miranda warnings to him or her. Miranda warnings are an important safeguard that citizens of the United States are afforded to protect themselves from self-incrimination. One reason these warnings are so crucial to a fair defense is because a “defendant’s confession . . . ‘has long been regarded as powerfully incriminating’ evidence” in a criminal trial. In fact, a confession is likely “’the most probative and damaging evidence that can be admitted against [a defendant]’” because it is direct evidence of facts “'from the actor himself, the most knowledgeable and unimpeachable source of information.’” Because confessions have such a powerful impact in a criminal case, it is important that Miranda warnings are delivered at a point when a defendant can make a meaningful, informed choice about whether or not to disclose self-incriminating information. Although the rights listed in these warnings may seem obvious to some, research has indicated that there are misconceptions about the extent to which people understand their rights and the content of the Miranda warnings. In a recent study, researchers set out to determine the extent to which “members of the American public possess a working knowledge of their Miranda rights.” Researchers asked several hundred participants to freely recall a Miranda warning and full out quizzes about Miranda protections. The results indicated that only 54.3 percent of the participants were deemed “knowledge” about the basic components of Miranda warnings, and “more than two-thirds of the [participants] misbelieved that Miranda applied in noncustodial situations.” The results of this study are indicative of the importance of reading Miranda warnings to suspects as a reminder of the rights afforded to them by the Constitution, as the content of these warnings is not necessarily common knowledge.
Elizabeth L. Tull,
What Constitutes "Custody" under Miranda?: An Examination of Maine's Test as Applied in State v. Kittredge,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol67/iss2/36