You’ve probably seen cop shows on television where the police catch a suspect, slap on the cuffs and start telling the person, “You have the right to remain silent.” But if you ever find yourself in a similar situation in real life, should you expect the police to tell you your rights? What happens if they don’t?

The truth is that the police do need to remind you of your rights, but not in every situation. Still, the police are always ready to use your words against you. And that’s why it’s important for people to remember their rights.

What rights does the Miranda warning provide?

This one is a bit of a trick question. The Miranda warning doesn’t actually give anyone any rights. Rather, it is a reminder of the rights you have under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that the police could not question people in certain circumstances until after they had been reminded of their constitutional rights. Because that decision was made in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, the reminder became known as the “Miranda warning.”

There’s more to the warning than is commonly known

There are five key parts to the Miranda warning and the rights it addresses:

  • The right to remain silent
  • Anything you say can be used against you in court
  • The right to a lawyer
  • If you invoke your right to remain silent, the interrogation must stop
  • If you invoke your right to have an attorney present, the interrogation must stop until your attorney is present

Notably, the exact language the police use to give the warning can vary from state to state, and the last two points are frequently dropped. You’ll have to look really hard to find an example of them showing up on prime-time television, but they’re important to remember. The police will remind you of your rights, and they’ll almost always ask you to acknowledge your rights. However, they don’t always point out how the procedure can change once you invoke your rights.

Are there times the police can ask you questions without reciting the Miranda warning?

Yes. The police only need to recite the Miranda warning before they question you in a “custodial interrogation.” This means that you are arrested or aren’t otherwise reasonably free to leave.

The police are free to ask you questions if they walk up to you on the street, knock on your door or visit your office. They don’t necessarily need to recite the Miranda warning in these situations, but it’s important to remember that they can still make use of anything you say. And you can still invoke your right to remain silent.

What happens if the police ask me questions without reciting the Miranda warning?

If the police are asking you questions, there’s a reasonable chance they may suspect you of something. If you volunteer answers in a situation where the police don’t need to recite the warning, you may risk incriminating yourself.

However, if the police arrest you and then fail to recite a version of the Miranda warning before they interrogate you, they may be violating your rights. This can taint the evidence they gain from you—as well as any evidence they go on to find as a direct result of your testimony. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to get such evidence thrown out of trial.

Asserting your Miranda rights

While the police should respect the rights you’re granted by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, there are good and bad ways to go about asserting them. It’s a bad idea to be rude or hostile toward the police. Instead, you should politely say that you want to speak to an attorney and are invoking your right to remain silent. “I want to remain silent.” That’s often the best answer you can give the police.