Taking the Next Step in Miranda Evaluations: Considering Racial Trauma and the Impact of Prior Police Contact

Antoinette Kavanaugh*, Victoria Pietruszka, Danielle Rynczak, Dinisha Blanding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


By law, before interrrogating a suspect who is in custody, the police should inform them of their Miranda rights—the rights against self-incrimination and to an attorney. When a suspect or defendant waives their Miranda rights, a judge ultimately determines whether the waiver was legal. In making this determination, the judge employs the totality of the circumstances (TOC) analysis, which includes factors related to the individual defendant as well as the environment in which they waived their rights. Frequently, forensic psychologists evaluate a defendant to offer courts a clinical opinion about the defendant’s ability to understand and appreciate their Miranda rights and to provide other TOC information. These evaluations are referred to as Miranda evaluations. Using Miranda evaluations as an illustration, this article describes how the critical, yet often overlooked, concepts of racial trauma and vicarious and direct prior police contacts should routinely be considered as part of forensic evaluations. After providing a succinct overview of the relevant legal issues related to Miranda rights and of the existing guidelines for conducting Miranda evaluations, we discuss the psychological impact of racial trauma and prior vicarious and direct police contacts. We provide case examples to illustrate how evaluators can consider the impact of racial trauma and prior police contact when conducting Miranda evaluations. This article serves as a practical guide for understanding how and why—in the context of their lived experiences—suspects may waive their Miranda rights. Finally, we recommend how to improve policy and research to better capture issues related to racial trauma and prior police contacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-259
Number of pages11
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • forensic mental health assessment
  • Miranda waiver evaluations
  • racial trauma
  • vicarious and direct police contact

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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