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Understanding your right to remain silent

On Behalf of | Dec 5, 2023 | Criminal Defense

You have probably seen many television shows in which police arrest a person and advise them their Miranda rights. They usually begin with the words “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

While these words may sound familiar, many people don’t think very much about them unless they have been arrested. At that point, these words become extremely important.

The right to remain silent

The right to remain silent stems from the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which, among other protections, provides that people cannot be forced to serve as a witness against themselves. This works together with the right to an attorney, which stems from the Sixth Amendment. In other words, a person being interrogated by the police has the right to remain silent and have a lawyer represent them.

These are sometimes called the Miranda rights, after a U.S. Supreme Court case in which a man confessed to a crime after being interrogated by police for two hours. Police coerced the man, Ernesto Miranda, into signing a confession in which he claimed to be aware of his rights, but in fact they had never advised him of his right to an attorney. Because of this, the Supreme Court ruled that Miranda had not voluntarily waived his rights.

When must the police read Miranda rights?

Despite the impression you might get from those television shows, the police do not necessarily have to read a person their rights as soon as they arrest them. Rather, the police must read the rights when the person is in custody and at some point before they are interrogated. In this context, “in custody” means the person has been taken to jail . To be “interrogated” means to be questioned about an alleged crime.

Police do not have to read Miranda rights to a person suspected of drunk driving until after they have taken the person into custody, but they must do so before questioning the person about the alleged crime. If they fail to do so, the defendant may be able to have the court suppress any evidence obtained during the interrogation.

Invoking your rights

As strange as this may seem, you must speak up in order to exercise your right to remain silent. If you say nothing at all, a court may find that you have not invoked your rights. You must tell the police that you wish to remain silent and wish to speak to an attorney.

However, merely saying you wish to exercise these rights is not enough; you must carry through. You can waive your rights if you continue to answer police officers’ questions after invoking your rights. This is important to remember because police often try to keep people talking in order to gather more evidence against them.