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Suppose a man is arrested but then stays silent. Can the police go and talk to his wife without reading her her Miranda rights?

For example, if they don't notify her of her right to stay silent and she admits (in an interrogation room, but without herself ever being suspected of a crime) that she washed blood out of his clothes, can that admission be used in court?

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The Miranda warning only has to be given to a person being interrogated in custody, and on the premise that the wife is not in custody, the police do not need to read her the warning. Therefore, anything she says can be used against her, or somebody else, unless there is a separate reason why the statement could not be used.

The wife may invoke the spousal testimony privilege, in which case she cannot be compelled to testify against the husband. The officer could theoretically testify that the wife said "I washed blood out of his clothing", but this is an assertion made by an out-of-court declarant to prove the truth of the question at hand, i.e. hearsay. There are numerous exceptions to the definition so that in some cases, the statement would not be hearsay. If the wife refuses to testify, that cuts out half of the exceptions, but maybe the wife is a co-conspirator.

  • This sounds like the right answer, but I'll give it a day to get tested. By the way, it doesn't seem fair that the wife should not be made aware of her right to remain silent (when considering her to be a teammate of the husband, just like spousal privilege does), so I wonder if this might get challenged and changed some day in court. – bobuhito May 15 '18 at 21:53
  • @bobuhito Hard to say, but the right to remain silent has gotten progressively weirder, I think. A recent supreme court ruling says that if you're being questioned, and you suddenly go quiet, then this can be used against you in court. They said you have to explicitly invoke the fifth amendment in order to actually have its protection (ergo, you must not remain silent in order to remain silent). – zibadawa timmy May 16 '18 at 8:44
  • It is worth noting that many states abrogate spousal privilege by statute for serious offenses. It would probably apply in a car theft or simple assault case, but it might not in a murder or kidnapping case. – ohwilleke May 17 '18 at 8:07
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If she's subject to a custodial interrogation, they're generally obligated to Mirandize her, regardless of whether she's a suspect. If they don't, that would make her statements there inadmissible in a case against her (for abetting or destroying evidence, for example), but I don't think it would make those statements inadmissible in a case against the husband himself.

  • I would say she is not in custody since she is not a suspect - Let's say she just came to the police station to look after her husband and wound up in an interrogation room voluntarily. So, I think this answer does not apply. – bobuhito May 15 '18 at 15:57
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    Fair enough, but be careful of one important distinction. The fact that the wife is not a suspect doesn't really tell us much about whether she's "in custody" for Miranda purposes. The question there is whether she reasonable believes that she is free to walk away from the police. Once you add that she's there voluntarily, that sort of settles it, though. No custody, no Miranda rights. – bdb484 May 15 '18 at 16:03

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