In the US, numerous versions of the Miranda Warning exist, and most are written in high-code legalese. Research shows that native English speakers have difficulty understanding the Warning (Rogers et al., 2010, 2011), and this is even more challenging for suspects with limited English proficiency (Bowen, 2017; Eades, 2010; Innes & Erlam, 2018; Pavlenko, 2008; Pavlenko et al., 2016). Importantly, the nature and degree of this problem are not well understood due to the lack of systematic empirical research.
The purpose of this study is to examine how well L1 (n = 41) and L2 (n = 71) speakers of English comprehend the Miranda Warning, whether their level of confidence corresponds with their actual comprehension, what the greatest sources of difficulty are, and what the participants think their individual rights are when they misunderstand them. All participants were students at American universities, with the L2 participants recruited from advanced intensive English courses. The L2 participants included 50 L1 Chinese and 21 L1 Arabic speakers. Comprehension was measured through paraphrasing, recall, and dictation tasks.
Results show that 93% of the L1 English participants surpassed a threshold level of comprehension, but only 3% of the L2 participants did so, and no one with a CEFR proficiency rating lower than C1 reached the threshold. The results also show that participants’ confidence was high even when their comprehension was low. The cause of misunderstanding was often the misinterpretation of familiar-sounding words and phrases (e.g., writefor right, wavefor waive, presidentfor precedent).