Mystery Buffs Familiar With Miranda Words

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 ruling in the Miranda v. Arizona case, certain guidelines and protections for people under arrest or those in custody for another crime have been in effect.

Miranda Warning language may have been new and unfamiliar to many people in the United States, but it had a familiar ring to residents of Great Britain and followers of English movies, plays and books, especially mysteries written by Agatha Christie.

“Anything you say, I must warn you, will be taken down and … may be used against you.” That is the way almost everyone would finish the famous sentence uttered by countless Scotland Yard inspectors. But that’s not the way Scotland Yard operatives are taught to say it, as Christie points out in her novel At Bertram’s Hotel. Here is a brief exchange from that book:

“The famous policeman’s warning! Anything you say will be taken down and used against you at your trial.”

“That’s not quite the wording,” says the inspector. “Used, yes. Against, no …”

The actual wording is “You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so but what you say may be put into writing and given in evidence.”

There are various other wordings to fit other conditions (a written rather than oral statement by the suspect, for example), but none of them contains the words “against you.” The key phrase is “given in evidence.”

The U.S. Miranda Warning is the following:

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. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

The suspect must give a clear, affirmative answer to this question. Silence is not acceptable as waiving these rights because the arrestee may not understand or may not speak English well enough to comprehend. If the Miranda Warning must be translated for the suspect, that translation is usually recorded.

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