Police Intelligence, Interrogations & Miranda Warnings

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  • 0:01 The Intelligence Function
  • 2:17 Police Interrogation
  • 4:25 Miranda Warning
  • 6:07 Miranda Exceptions
  • 7:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has taught and written various law courses.

Police departments must receive and disseminate critical information. This is known as the police intelligence function. This lesson explains the intelligence function, including police interrogations and the role of Miranda warnings.

The Intelligence Function

Henry Lee Lucas is known as one of the most prolific serial killers in United States history. As with all cases, officers used police intelligence to investigate Lucas' crimes. Intelligence includes many forms of criminal information, including information gained through interrogations.

Lucas worked with a special police intelligence unit, dubbed the 'Lucas Task Force'. While cooperating with this unit, Lucas confessed to well over 500 murders, including the murder of his mother. Over time, Lucas' confessions grew more ludicrous and many of his confessions were later discredited. Lucas was ultimately convicted in 11 murder cases.

The Lucas Task Force was part of the Texas Rangers. However, many police departments aren't large enough to house their own intelligence units. Instead, they have at least one officer assigned to manage the police intelligence function of that agency. The U.S. Department of Justice explains a police department's intelligence function like this:

The mission of the Intelligence Unit… is to collect, evaluate, analyze, and disseminate intelligence data regarding criminal activity in this city…and any criminal activity in other jurisdictions that may adversely affect this city….

As you can see, this is a wide-ranging job! Notice that police departments must share information within their own agency. For example, the intelligence unit must provide pertinent information to the unit responsible for making arrests and providing reports to the prosecuting attorney.

The intelligence unit must share information with other agencies, too. For example, let's say a local crime has federal law implications. While investigating a burglary, the officers discover that the suspect is stealing expensive artwork and selling it in other states. The local officers then provide their information to the FBI.

Police Interrogation

Intelligence units collect data and receive information in a number of different ways. Let's take a closer look at one of the most common ways.

Interrogation is information gathering conducted by police through the direct questioning of suspects. Many experts argue that interrogation is one of the most important tools of criminal investigation. However, there are limits placed on the manner and use of interrogation.

This is because our Fifth Amendment protects against self-incrimination. It dictates that no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself in any criminal case. Generally speaking, this means that all statements made during interrogations must be made voluntarily. Otherwise, those statements will not be allowed as evidence in the suspect's trial.

For example, police cannot use physical abuse during interrogation. This rule comes from the famous 1930s Supreme Court case of Brown v. Mississippi. Three black tenant farmers were convicted of murdering a white planter. The only evidence used against the farmers was their confessions. Police readily admitted that those confessions came only after officers brutally whipped the suspects for hours and even hung one suspect from a tree. The Supreme Court reversed the convictions and ruled that confessions extracted through police violence cannot be entered into evidence.

Keep in mind that there are many other interrogation tactics that fall short of physical abuse, but may still be prohibited. When courts consider the voluntariness of a confession, they will examine the circumstances of each individual case. There's no specific legal definition. However, statements cannot be coerced in any way. Coerced means the police used force or intimidation in order to gain compliance. Coerced statements will not be allowed into evidence.

Miranda Warnings

That brings us to a topic you are likely familiar with due to its popularity in TV shows and movies. Miranda warnings are used to inform a suspect who is in police custody of his or her Fifth Amendment rights before being questioned.

The warnings were established due to the Supreme Court's ruling in the famous 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona. Ernesto Miranda was convicted of kidnapping and rape after orally confessing, then signing a written confession. The written confession said that he made the statements voluntarily and with full knowledge of his legal rights, but Miranda had been questioned for two hours without being informed of his right to remain silent or right to an attorney. In a controversial decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Miranda's statement was inadmissible and overturned his convictions.

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