, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 177-192
Date: 19 Oct 2006

An Analysis of Miranda Warnings and Waivers: Comprehension and Coverage

Abstract

Miranda warnings enshrine the constitutional rights of custodial suspects against self-incrimination. However, the wording and sentence complexity of Miranda warnings and waivers vary dramatically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This study is the first extensive investigation of Miranda warning variations examining 560 Miranda warnings from across the United States. With Flesch-Kincaid reading comprehension as a useful metric, Miranda warnings varied from very simple comprehension (i.e., grade 2.8) to requiring postgraduate education. Miranda warnings are composed of five components (e.g., silence and evidence against you); marked variations were also observed in the comprehensibility of individual components. On average, the Miranda warning component on “continuing rights” requires a reading comprehension level six grades higher than the comparatively simple expression of the right to silence. Similar analyses were conducted on Miranda waivers. The content of these warnings differed on such issues as communicating (a) when access to an attorney would be granted (e.g., 45.9% specified only “during questioning”) and (b) explicitly that indigent legal services were free (e.g., 31.8% directly informed suspects). Finally, the study identified representative Miranda components at different levels of reading comprehension as a template for further research.