Many suspects don’t understand their right to remain silent
Miranda warnings. That estimate includes 360,000 arrests of
adults with mental health disorders; 305,000 arrests of adults
without mental health disorders; and 311,000 juvenile arrests.
More than 800 different versions of Miranda warnings
are used by police agencies across the United States, and
the warnings vary in reading level from second grade to a
postcollege level, Rogers said. Defendants often assume they
know their rights so they don’t listen, and the warnings aren’t
explained well by police, he said. As a result, defendants often
wrongly believe their silence can be used against them in court.
Rogers devised a survey with true-or-false questions
about Miranda warnings that was completed by 119 college
undergraduate students and 149 pretrial defendants at jails in
Texas and Oklahoma. It showed 31 percent of the defendants
and 36 percent of the undergraduates wrongly believed that
their silence could be used as incriminating evidence at trial.
Other misperceptions abound, with many people believing
Defendants often assume they know their Miranda rights so
they don’t listen when they are read to them, and the warnings
aren’t explained well by police, a psychologist finds.
Almost 1 million criminal cases may be compromised each
year in the United States because suspects don’t understand
their constitutional rights, according to research presented at
APA’s 2011 Annual Convention by University of North Texas
psychology professor Richard Rogers, PhD.
“Some offenders are street-wise and legally sophisticated,
but far more have a limited and often erroneous understanding
of Miranda warnings and the underlying constitutional
safeguards,” said Rogers.
Rogers, the principal investigator for a National Science
Foundation grant that is evaluating the effectiveness of
Miranda warnings, analyzed research on Miranda warnings
for an article to be published in next month’s American
Psychologist. Based on his analysis of nationwide statistics of
9. 2 million arrests in 2009, he estimates that 976,000 arrests, or
10 percent of the cases, were compromised by problems with
that police can keep interrogating a defendant even though he
has requested an attorney but is still waiting for the attorney to
arrive, Rogers said.
Some defendants also don’t realize detectives can lie
during questioning and claim eyewitnesses or other evidence
implicates the defendant in an attempt to get him to start
talking, according to his presentation. “These false beliefs strike
at the heart of highly valued constitutional rights,” Rogers said.
Rogers doesn’t believe that a compromised case necessarily
means charges should be dismissed. To comply with
requirements from the Supreme Court, those cases should
be reviewed to ascertain whether defendants knowingly and
intelligently waived their rights after a Miranda warning, Rogers
said. The language of the warning also should be simplified, and
suspects should be told to read it aloud and explain it in their
own words to make sure they understand it, he said.
While repeat offenders may not pay attention to a public
information campaign about Miranda warnings, it could help
first-time offenders, Rogers said. Professionals in the criminal
justice field also need to recognize common false beliefs about
Miranda warnings that could jeopardize defendants’ rights, he
“Constitutional safeguards are further imperiled when
attorneys, judges and forensic evaluators are lulled into
complacency by the commonly held misconception that
everyone understands their Miranda rights,” Rogers said.
Rogers received the 2011 Award for Distinguished
Contributions for Research in Public Policy from the American
Psychological Association for his work.