When criminal suspects are taken into custody in New Jersey and around the country, police officers are required to inform them that they have a right to remain silent and speak with an attorney. They are also told that an attorney will be provided for them if they lack the means to pay for legal services and anything they do say will be memorialized and could be used against them in court. These are rights provided to all suspects by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, but police officers were not required to make sure that suspects knew about them until 1966.

That was when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling in Miranda v. Arizona. The case involved a man who confessed to the rape and murder of a young woman after two hours of intense police questioning. The man’s subsequent conviction was upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court, but the nation’s highest court overturned it because the man was never informed about his right to remain silent and consult with a lawyer. While the ruling stated the specific rights that suspects must be informed about, the justices left the precise wording of Miranda warnings to individual law enforcement agencies.

Suspects can invoke what are often referred to as their Miranda rights at any time, and police officers are required to respect their wishes and cease interrogations when they do. However, they would be wise to ensure that they make their wishes very clear. This is because the Supreme Court ruled in the 2010 case Berghuis v. Thompkins that ambiguous invocations may not be sufficient to prevent subsequent statements from being treated as an implied waiver of constitutional rights.

Attorneys with experience in criminal defense would likely advise individuals who are taken into custody by the police to invoke their Miranda rights at the earliest opportunity and then say nothing until a lawyer is present. This could prevent suspects from confessing to crimes they did not commit and ensure that concessions are received in return for valuable information.