This year, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether police must continue to give prisoners Miranda warnings before interrogation. Those warnings — that the prisoner has the right to remain silent; anything he says may be used against him; and that he has the right to a retained or court-appointed lawyer — have been widely accepted since the 1966 Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona required these warnings or “other fully effective means … to inform accused persons of their right[s].” Most police agencies have adopted the stated warnings.

If the warnings are not given, or if the prisoner asks for a lawyer, or states that he does not want to answer questions, then the interrogation should stop, and statements made under a continued interrogation may not be used against the defendant. Critics of the decision complain that prisoners know their rights even without hearing the warnings, so the requirement is a technicality that excludes valuable evidence. This criticism is naive: Many prisoners — and many police officers — do not understand these rights, how they must be invoked or what to do once they are invoked.

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