Justice in Motion — Some other useful information — Miranda, for starters


In collaboration with the Grays Harbor Youth Center, I’ve been doing educational presentations to the youth at the Grays Harbor Juvenile Detention facility. Last month’s court decorum column is an example of issues we discuss; another is the Miranda warning.

Miranda rights were the result of a 1966 United States Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona, which established the constitutional Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate oneself. Miranda is a complicated area of the law because many courts have interpreted what these rights mean.

Miranda may vary somewhat, but four pieces of essential information must be provided:

• You have the right to remain silent.

• Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law.

• You have the right to an attorney.

• If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.

Additional information often included:

• You can exercise these rights at any time.

• Do you understand each of these rights?

If you are a juvenile, you may be informed: If you are under the age of 18, anything you say can be used against you in a Juvenile Court prosecution for a juvenile offense and can also be used against you in an adult court criminal prosecution if the juvenile court decides that you are to be tried as an adult. Failure not to be told this; however, may not necessarily invalidate Miranda.

Based on their life experience, several youth at the Juvenile Detention facility say if they are walking down the street and a police officer attempts to stop to speak with them, their instinct is to run. As several can attest, running may result in more serious charges.

NOTE: Your rights when stopped in a motor vehicle are very different and not part of this column.

If you have not done anything wrong and an officer stops to speak with you, cooperate.

An officer has the right to verify your identity. If asked, give your name or provide identification.

If an officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity that raises a present safety concern, the officer can frisk for weapons—from another United States Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio (1968). If your hands are out in the open (not in your pockets) and you are minding your own business, a Terry frisk is likely improper.

Ask the officer if you are free to go. If the answer is yes, then you … are … free … to … go.

If the answer is no, think carefully why the Miranda warning exists: You have the right not to incriminate yourself (by your words or actions). If you think you have done something wrong and you want to exercise your Miranda rights, be very specific: “I want a lawyer.” “I am exercising my right to remain silent.” And then STOP talking. If you start talking again, you have waived your rights and will have to re-invoke your rights. Lastly, even if an officer has not yet read the Miranda warning to you, you can exercise those rights as soon as you believe you need to.

I am very impressed with the youth at the Juvenile Detention facility, notwithstanding their present circumstances. If you know youth who are struggling, please reach out and help. This community is perceived to have limited healthy activities and positive role models. If you think that is a bad rap (I certainly do!), consider stepping up and helping youth in our community. Based on the youth I have met in the past six months, they truly deserve it!

If you would like to find out more about how you might be able to contribute, contact the Grays Harbor Youth Center at 589-3259 or Grays Harbor Mentoring Connections at 500-4065.

Disclaimer: I do not practice criminal law and this column is merely general information compiled from research and interviews with legal colleagues who are prosecutors and defense attorneys. As Miranda itself tries to address, if you think you need an attorney, please seek specific legal advice.

To find out if you are eligible for Northwest Justice Project services:

For cases including youth (Individualized Education Program issues, school discipline issues), debt collection cases and tenant evictions, please call for a local intake appointment Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at (360) 533-2282 or toll free (866) 402-5293. No walk-ins, please.

For all other legal issues, please call our toll-free intake and referral hotline commonly known as “CLEAR” (Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral) at 1-888-201-1014, Mondays through Fridays 9:10 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. If you are a senior, 60 and over, please call 1-888-387-7111; you may be eligible regardless of income. Language interpreters are available. You can also complete an application for services at http://nwjustice.org/get-legal-help.

Sarah Glorian is the senior attorney for the Aberdeen office of the Northwest Justice Project, a private, non-profit legal aid organization providing free representation to low-income residents in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.