If the police fail to issue Miranda warnings to a suspect when required, the prosecution generally will not be able to use the suspect’s statements against them at trial. Miranda warnings must be provided before a custodial interrogation, which means that the police are inducing the suspect to provide them with information in a situation in which the suspect reasonably believes that they are not free to leave. The rule that provides for excluding evidence obtained in violation of Miranda rights is known as the exclusionary rule.
As with many rules of criminal procedure, the exclusionary rule has certain exceptions. Evidence obtained in violation of Miranda rights sometimes may be admitted at trial if an exception applies, assuming that the evidence is not inadmissible for another reason. However, sometimes state constitutions and state laws provide a broader range of rights than the U.S. Constitution. Depending on where you live, an exception to the exclusionary rule may not apply, or it may apply differently than in other states.
Common Exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule
One of the most important exceptions to the exclusionary rule is the exception for tangible evidence. If the police discover tangible evidence based on statements obtained in violation of Miranda, the prosecution may be able to use that evidence against the defendant at trial. This is especially true if the prosecution can argue that the police would have found the tangible evidence eventually anyway. The exception for tangible evidence can be critical because evidence such as drugs or stolen items can prove a case against a defendant even if their statements are not admissible. Some legal scholars have argued that the police have a real incentive to violate Miranda rules due to the value of obtaining this evidence.
Some other exceptions relate to witness testimony. A statement that the police obtained in violation of Miranda rights can be used to impeach the defendant’s credibility as a witness, if it is inconsistent with their statements at trial. Also, as with tangible evidence, a witness uncovered by a statement obtained in violation of Miranda rights may be used to testify against the defendant at trial.
The public safety exception can be more complex but just as critical. When a police officer reasonably believes that a situation is dangerous, they can interrogate a suspect about a weapon without issuing Miranda warnings. Any weapon that the police find as a result of this questioning may be introduced as evidence against the suspect if they are charged. This can play a role in gun crime cases or in cases in which the use of a firearm is an aggravating factor that can lead to a higher level of charge or enhanced penalties. (In some states, such as Florida, the presence of a firearm can result in a mandatory minimum sentence.) Similarly, a statement that the police obtained in violation of Miranda may be admissible against the defendant in a sentencing hearing. If they confessed to having a weapon or to another aggravating factor without having received Miranda warnings, this may affect the penalty that they receive although not the initial determination of their guilt.