By Lori Spencer

A legal waiver is the voluntary surrender of one’s known rights under the law. “Known rights” is the key issue for courts when evaluating specific causes of action. Written waivers must inform the signatory of which specific rights they are relinquishing for the documents to be enforceable. This follows the legal principle that someone cannot waive rights he didn’t know he had.

When a criminal suspect is arrested in the United States, the police must inform the defendant of his Miranda rights prior to questioning. This warning includes the right to remain silent, the right not to self-incriminate, and the right to have an attorney present. Should the defendant answer questions voluntarily or confess to the crime, he is considered to have waived his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. The choice, however, must be freely made by the defendant and not forced or coerced. The court must also be convinced that the accused fully understood the rights he was forfeiting.

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