How an Improper Miranda Warning May Lead to a Reversal of a Criminal Conviction in Tampa Bay

If you enjoy “Law and Order” or other police dramas on television, the chances are you’ve heard the words:  “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 an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” This statement is known commonly as a Miranda warning (because it originated from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Miranda v. Arizona). In real life, the issue of a criminal suspect’s receipt of a Miranda warning can be a very important part of the case. An experienced Florida sex crime attorney can help analyze your case and determine if your rights have been violated and what that can mean for you.

One recent Tampa Bay area case in which the Miranda warning was critical was a case of the alleged molestation of a young girl. The girl told her father that her former stepfather had sexually assaulted her multiple times at a home in Palm Harbor when she was nine years old. Law enforcement in Pinellas County brought in the alleged abuser for an interview.

A detective began the interview by giving the man his Miranda warning. He went through each element of the warning, and the suspect said he understood every part. However, the man also observed, “I can’t afford a lawyer anyhow.” Without doing any more inquiry regarding whether the man understood that he was entitled to have an attorney provided to him at no cost if he wanted, the detective simply went forward with the questioning.

During the course of that interview, the man made multiple incriminating statements. The state used those statements as part of its case for sexual battery against the man. The man’s trial lawyer argued that the court should exclude those post-Miranda statements. The defense lawyer argued that the man’s “I can’t afford a lawyer anyhow” comment was a clear indication that he did not understand his right to have counsel provided to him at no cost, which would mean that the Miranda warning was not properly completed, and the statements weren’t admissible. The trial court allowed the statements into evidence, concluding that the man’s statement was merely a vague expression of interest in legal counsel, and it was not enough to make the Miranda warning insufficient.

After the man was convicted, he appealed. In his appeal, defense counsel made the same argument that the man’s trial lawyer did:  that the man’s statement about his inability to afford an attorney was proof that the man didn’t “knowingly and voluntarily” waive his Miranda rights as required by the law.

The court of appeal agreed with the man’s counsel. Several years earlier, another court of appeal faced a similar issue. Law enforcement tried to Mirandize the suspect. The suspect said he understood his rights but also stated, “I don’t even have no money to call a lawyer.” The police went ahead with the interview, and the state secured a conviction, but the court of appeal reversed that conviction. In both this recent Pinellas County case and the older case, the suspects’ expressions of an inability to secure counsel because they lacked money offered a clear “red flag” that the suspects didn’t fully understand the “if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you” part of the Miranda warning. If a suspect doesn’t understand, the suspect’s waiver of his Miranda rights may not be voluntary, which may mean that statements he makes may be excludable at trial.

In any criminal defense situation, sometimes even small details can make big differences. You need an experienced attorney who knows how to “sweat the small stuff.” The knowledgeable Tampa Bay sex crime attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. have been providing their clients with thorough criminal defense counsel for many years. Our experienced attorneys are ready to discuss your case with you. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the answers and the reliable assistance you need.

More blog posts:

When Details Matter: How A Misstatement of the Charged Crime in Jury Instructions Led to a Reversal of a Florida Conviction, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Oct. 23, 2017

What to Do When You’re Questioned by Law Enforcement Officers in Florida, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, June 19, 2017

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