Meatballs, Miranda Rights and Writers: You Have the Right to Write it Right
So . . . a suspect has finally developed in your great novel . . . the detectives have him cornered in an interview room . . . the lights are low . . . they shine a bright spotlight in the suspect’s eyes to disorient him . . . they are peppering the suspect with rapid-fire questions . . . playing good cop/bad cop . . . yelling . . . threatening . . . maybe even a few slaps on the jaw . . . he’s about to crack . . . he’s gonna tell your readers where he buried the body . . . you get the picture.
Suddenly, the suspect blurts out “I want my Miranda rights!”
WTF just happened?
Whoosh. He just popped your balloon.
We’ve all heard these rights on television. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you at no cost. You have the right to waive your Miranda rights and speak to us without an attorney present.
And you as a writer have the right to know the cold hard truth about Miranda rights.
What has happened is that he has invoked his rights under the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Miranda v. Arizona, where a convicted rapist, Ernesto Miranda, gave the police a written confession, then appealed his conviction on the grounds he did know he was entitled to have a lawyer present even if he could not afford one during his interrogation. It is one of the most important, yet misunderstood legal decisions when it comes to writers who are incorporating the law and confessions into their work, whether it be a mystery, romance, true crime, historical, suspense or anything in-between. By invoking his Miranda rights, he no longer has to talk to the police. And they can’t force him to. Legally, that is.
Why is it so very important for you as a writer to know about Miranda?
It’s extremely important because if you are inaccurate in the use of Miranda by the police or the suspect in your work, you lose immediate credibility from those readers that understand the law. There are a lot of lawyers, police officers, legal scholars, paralegals, prosecutors, judges, court clerks, defense attorneys, law students, court stenographers, parole officers, federal agents, probation officers and others in the criminal justice system out there. And they like to read. Then there are the other readers not in the field who do not understand Miranda, accept your misinformation, and later on find out you were inaccurate.
They’ll never buy your books again. You lied to them. Under oath. Guilty! Your sentence: ten years in the 75% off book bin at Sam’s Club or COSTCO. Right next to the little old lady that gives away the free samples of miniscule meatballs on a toothpick.
Knowing EXACTLY when and where Miranda is used is what I am going to clue you in on, because you and your faithful readers have the right to know.
True or false? A police officer must give Miranda rights to every suspect before they interview them about a crime.