When to Remain Silent, and When to Bust a Cap in Somebody’s A**?

Arrest and Patrol Car

Get It Right

When is a police officer required to advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings? Well, I’ll give you a hint, it’s not like we see on television, and in many books. Surprised? Not me. After all, some authors still insist on writing about cops smelling cordite, or writing about a wonderfully-crafted and efficient pistol, but use the wrong ammunition in it. It’s lazy writing and it shows. AND, today’s readers know this stuff, and when they see those errors in your books, well, a writer’s credibility levels decline rapidly.

In fact, just yesterday a literary agent, one who believes in accuracy in novels, (one of my favorite agents) contacted me about a passage from a book he’d read. In the piece, the author described a character holding what he said was a .40 Glock Model 19. The character went on to tell his adversary to move away from his door or he’d “bust a cap in his his “a**.” 

There are two things I see wrong with the brief scene. 1) The Glock model 19 is a 9mm, not a .40 cal. Totally wrong and not even close. 2) Next, who says “bust a cap in your a**?” Is that even a thing these days? The last I heard it was waaaaayy back when bellbottom pants, platform shoes, and disco balls were the rage. And it was the time when this song (below) was at the top of the charts. So no, it’s not a modern term. Sure, there are holdovers, like old-timers who call all soft drinks “Cokes” and are still waiting patiently for Elvis to climb out from behind the cheesecake in the refrigerator to take his rightful place on a Vegas stage.

… you know who you are …


Bust a Cap, the History

Bust a cap = to shoot someone … typically used in the 1960s and early 70s, and … However, the Extra Globe from 1839:

“On the 22nd instant about forty half and full blood Cherokee Indians came to the house of John Ridge, esq. a distinguished Cherokee, and just about daylight entered the chamber of Mr. Ridge unperceived by any of the family, and bursted a cap at his head, which awoke him, who then saw and felt his impending fate, no doubt, and called on his assailants for mercy.”

From a 1907 murder trial

“Dave Grant testified that’ between 11 and 12 o’clock, at Landon’s barber shop, he heard Henry Cooley say ‘he would bust a cap In somebody’s …”

John Wayne in a 1939 film, speaking of Bonnie Parker (Bonnie and Clyde) –

“I hated to bust a cap on a woman, especially when she was sitting down, but if it wouldn’t have been her, it would’ve been us.”

And from Wikipedia

The “percussion cap,” introduced around 1830, was used to make muzzle-loading rifles fire reliably under any weather condition. (It replaced the flint.) The firearm’s hammer would strike the cap, which would ignite the gunpowder, which would expel the bullet. The percussion cap gave way to the primer in modern breechloaded (rear-loaded) firearms. The primer is attached to the back end of the cartridge. ~ Wikipedia

The only thing the author of the problematic Glock .40 cal./9mm left out of his book was that his steampunk .40/9mm rounds were crammed and jammed full of cordite. Now that would have completed a full circle of nonsense.

Cordite is gone, folks. Finished. Over. Done. The fat lady finished the final verse many years ago. They just don’t make the stuff anymore! Haven’t since the close of WWII.

Cordite is Dead

Cordite rods and piece of round cardboard.


Left to right – casing, cordite rods, cardboard disc on top, and bullet.

Left to right – casing, cordite rods, cardboard disc on top, and bullet.

When Miranda Warnings Apply

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 3.24.15 PMTelevision depicts officers spouting off Miranda warnings the second they have someone in cuffs. Not so. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I chased a suspect, caught him, he resisted, and then we wound up on the ground fighting like street thugs while I struggled to apply handcuffs to his wrists. I can promise you I had a few words to say after I pulled the scuz to his feet, but “Miranda” wasn’t one of them. Too many letters. At that point, I could only think of words of the four -letter variety.

Two elements must be in place for the Miranda warning requirement to apply. The suspect must be in custody and he must be undergoing interrogation.

A suspect is in police custody if he’s under formal arrest or if his freedom has been restrained or denied to the extent that he feels as if he’s no longer free to leave.

This fellow is not free to leave.

arrest-take-down.jpgInterrogation is not only asking questions, but any actions, words, or gestures used by an officer to elicit an incriminating response can be considered as an interrogation.

If these two elements are in place officers must advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings prior to questioning. If not, statements made by the suspect may not be used in court. Doesn’t mean the arrest isn’t good, just that his statements aren’t admissible.

Officers are not required to advise anyone of their rights if they’re not going to ask questions. Defendants are convicted all the time without ever hearing that sing-songy police officer’s poem,  You have the right to…

Miranda facts:

Officers should repeat the Miranda warnings during each period of questioning. For example, during questioning officers decide to take a break for the night. They come back the next day to try again. They must advise the suspect of his rights again before resuming the questioning.

If an officer takes over questioning for another officer, she should repeat the warnings before asking her questions.

If a suspect asks for an attorney, officers may not ask any questions.

If a suspect agrees to answer questions, but decides to stop during the session and asks for an attorney, officers must stop the questioning.

Suspects who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs should not be questioned. Also, anyone who exhibits signs of withdrawal symptoms should not be questioned.

Officers should not question people who are seriously injured or ill.

People who are extremely upset or hysterical should not be questioned.

Officers may not threaten or make promises to elicit a confession.

Many officers carry a pre-printed Miranda warning card in their wallets. A National Sheriff’s Association membership card (same design and feel of a credit card) has the warnings printed on the reverse side.

Miranda Warning

The Real (Ernesto) Miranda

Fact: The Miranda warning requirement stemmed from a case involving a man named Ernesto Miranda.  Miranda killed a young woman in Arizona and was arrested for the crime. During questioning Miranda confessed to the slaying, but the police had failed to tell him he had the right to silence and that he could have an attorney present during the questioning. Miranda’s confession was ruled inadmissible; however, the court convicted him based on other evidence.

Miranda was released from prison after he served his sentence. Not long after his release he was killed during a bar fight.

His killer was advised of his rights according to the precedent setting case of Miranda v. Arizona. He chose to remain silent and, as a result jail officers confiscated this from him during booking …


* As always, laws, rules, regulations, policies, etc. vary from area to area. For total accuracy, please contact an expert within the department.

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