March 4, 2011 -- There's something about Miranda. She's not just a pretty clause.
Miranda rights, and the proper administration of them, can mean the difference between a win or a loss in a criminal case -- even before someone is put under arrest.
One need look no further than Casey Anthony's capital murder case in Florida, which is set to go to trial in two months.
The stakes don't get any higher than a death-penalty case, where judges often give the benefit of tough arguments to a defendant during litigation. After all, they don't want to get this wrong. A person's life is at stake.
In Anthony's case, her attorneys seemed to be tipping their hand this week regarding her defense strategy.
In pretrial hearings, they have been grilling everyone from the first officers who responded to the family's 911 call reporting that Anthony's daughter, 2-year-old Caylee, was missing, to the family members themselves.
The lawyers want to know exactly how Anthony was treated by police from the get-go. And they may be on to something.
It turns out Anthony briefly was handcuffed and put in the back of a cruiser within about two hours of police arriving to investigate her daughter's disappearance. The handcuffs weren't on for long -- Anthony was free to re-enter her home to continue answering police questions -- but the damage may have been done: Everything she said from the moment the cuffs were slapped on could be tossed out court and suppressed at trial.
Casey Anthony Miranda Rights
I know what you are thinking: She wasn't arrested at that very early stage of the case, so why should police be compelled to read her her rights?
Sometimes they are required to do so, and sometimes they are not. It's all about the suspect and whether she feels like she's in custody.
Yup, I dropped the "f" word -- feelings.
Miranda is a finicky little lady, and Americans' Fifth Amendment constitutional right has been hammered from every angle in courtrooms across the country.
If a suspect is taken into custody, she must be read her rights. By the same token, if a suspect is led to believe she's in custody by the actions of investigators, Miranda needs to show up for that date, too.
There are obvious actions that can lead investigators down a road to future suppressed statements. If police close the door to the interrogation room, if they threaten their "guest" in any way, if they call in the big guns -- the specialists, like arson investigators -- it can signal the "interview" and the "focus" of the investigation has taken a turn, and Miranda is required.
To be sure, police walk a tightrope during these times. Sometimes, lives -- children's lives -- are at stake and time is of the essence. Preservation of evidence is the last of their worries.
In Anthony's case, there could have been several points along the road to her eventual arrest where Miranda should have made an appearance. But, as always, it will be up to her judge to decide whether this tricky constitutional right was unfairly ignored.