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Both the United States Constitution and Florida Constitution provide that no person shall be compelled in any criminal matter to be a witness against oneself in a criminal interrogation and prosecution. Prior to any custodial interrogation, a criminal defendant must be warned of the following inherent rights:
1. the right to remain silent
2. that any statement made can be used against him or her
3. that he or she has a right the presence of an attorney prior to and during interrogation
4. that an attorney can be either retained or provided by the state
These rights are commonly known as Miranda rights (Ernesto Miranda). If a criminal defendant is not given Miranda rights, evidence obtained must be suppressed during trial. The Florida Supreme Court has consistently ruled that if inadmissible evidence is improperly introduced at trial, the defendant must be granted a new trial if it is proven that the inadmissible evidence contributed to the conviction.
Erroneous admissions obtained in violation of Miranda are subject to what is known as the “harmless error test.” In order for the conviction to be affirmed by the appellate court, the state must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the error did not contribute to the guilty verdict. In other words, the state must prove that the admission of the illegally seized evidence must have been a harmless error that had no bearing upon the final verdict.
A criminal defendant may waive his or her Miranda rights, however, the waiver of rights must be done knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. Where there is any indication that an accused has incriminated themselves in violation of their rights, a qualified criminal attorney will take appropriate action to keep any admission or confession from being used in the prosecutions case against them.
Miranda rights must be given to a criminal defendant prior to a custodial interrogation. In determining whether or not the defendant has been subjected to a custodial interrogation, the court will consider the following factors:
1. the manner of the questioning by law enforcement officials
2. the purpose, place, and manner of interrogation
3. the extent to which the suspect is confronted with evidence of guilt
4. whether or not the suspect is informed that they are free to leave
The Florida Supreme Court recently re-examined these topics in the case of Rigterink v. State that decided in 2009. In this case, Defendant Rigterink was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to the death penalty. On appeal, the primary issue before the Supreme Court was whether a videotaped confession that was shown to the jury was taken in violation of the Defendant’s Miranda rights. The court found that Defendant, although he voluntarily came to law enforcement with the purpose of providing fingerprints, was subjected to a custodial interrogation which required the issuance of valid Miranda rights. At some point during the interrogation, the Defendant was given verbal Miranda rights and also a rights-waiver form that were both defective because they only informed Defendant of his right to counsel prior to questioning and failed to mention that the rights extends to counsel during interrogation and failed to include the right to remain silent.
Factors that the court considered in determining that the Defendant was subjected to a custodial interrogation included the fact that the questioning took place over three and a half hours, the presence of three detectives in small room, how Defendant was presented with physical evidence of his guilt, and that he was never informed that he was free to leave. Thus, the videotaped confession should have been suppressed at the trial court. Next, the court considered if the admission of the videotaped confession constituted harmless error. The court found that this error was not harmless and remanded the case to the lower court and ordered a new trial for Defendant.