Miranda Rights

When you ask an entertainment lawyer to write about criminal law... you get throwbacks to Law & Order! In case you missed it, here is my op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune on Miranda Rights for Law Day, May 2, 2016. http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/3769029-155/op-ed-heres-why-all-utahns-should

ARTICLE published on April 30, 2016 in the Salt Lake Tribune:

Growing up in white suburban middle class America, I first heard about Miranda rights through my family’s favorite television show, Law and Order. The detectives almost always remembered the magic words — “You have the right to remain silent…” — as they hauled someone away for questioning. The “bad guy” was often found guilty at trial and thrown in prison. To no surprise, criminal cases in real life do not perfectly fall together into a 60-minute synopsis. Real life is messy. From police officers to lawyers to judges and juries, people in law enforcement and the justice system are human beings. The vast majority of us in the real law and order system try our best to uphold justice, but we do not always play our parts perfectly, for reasons we may or may not be aware of.

Crime is fueled by socioeconomic disparity, which stems from, and is further perpetuated by, inequality in access to adequate education, personal care and housing, and employment opportunities. Social science research and statistics indicate that implicit racial bias also plays a part in stops, searches, prosecution, and sentencing.

People of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, even in Utah, with reports indicating that racial minorities compose 60 percent of all prisoners in the United States. This is even more depressing because the United States has the highest rates of prison incarceration in the world. To put it into perspective, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) reports that the United States has 5 percent of the world population and has 25 percent of world prisoners. Further troubling, advances in forensic technology have brought to light hundreds of wrongful convictions — and counting. The Innocence Project reports that false confessions and incriminating statements were present in approximately 31 percent of cases where an innocent person was wrongfully convicted of a crime. This highlights the importance of Miranda warnings in preventing false and/or coerced confessions.

What exactly are the Miranda warnings? In 1966, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Miranda v. Arizona, holding that a person taken into police custody must be told of his or her Fifth Amendment right not to make any self-incriminating statements before he or she is questioned. As a result of Miranda, anyone in police custody must be told four things before being questioned:

1. You have the right to remain silent.

2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

3. You have the right to an attorney.

4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

Here are just three of the many reasons that you should care about Miranda rights: First, if you pay taxes, you probably don’t want your hard earned income to be wasted on prosecuting, incarcerating, or possibly killing innocent prisoners who may have been wrongfully convicted after failing to receive a proper Miranda warning. Second, if you care about safety, you don’t want innocent people being locked up while the actual criminals are still roaming free and committing crimes. Third, everyone should support equality in the law because of the golden rule – treat others how you want to be treated.

Know your rights in advance so that you are not caught off-guard if you find yourself or a loved one in a sticky situation. See the Law Day/Miranda Special Edition insert included with Sunday’s paper or visit www.utahbar.org for more information about Law Day 2016 as well as the Miranda decision and subsequent rulings made by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Michelle Kennedy is president of the Utah Minority Bar Association and is an entertainment lawyer with Kennedy Art and Entertainment Law.