Your Right to Remain Silent
Although the words are well known in criminal law, most people do not really understand their meaning. People are often unaware of their legal rights when dealing with police and criminal law. It is important to know that you have a constitutional right to remain silent and a right to an attorney.
What Does This Mean?
You have the right to remain silent, and anything you say can, and will be used against you. In other words, if a police officer asks if you have anything to say, or if you consent to a search, you have an absolute, positive right to say NO!
In order to understand your rights, it helps to know where those rights come from. The U. S. Constitution, 5th Amendment states: “No person…shall be compelled in a criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
The word “compelled” means required or forced. That means any information you volunteer, and are not forced to say, can be admissible against you as evidence. On the contrary, if you decide to exercise your right not to respond any questions, you deprive the authorities of any potentially incriminating statements.
In the case of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), the United States Supreme Court decided that the 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination was the basis to be used for ruling on the admissibility of any statements made to a police or other law enforcement officer.
While it’s never a good idea to be deliberately uncooperative with the police, if you are considered a suspect, cooperating with the police officer at the scene or at the police station will only make things worse for you and better for the prosecutor at the courthouse.
Police investigators tell people they arrest to cooperate in exchange for better treatment. These assertions are often made without any authority. The benefits of cooperating are not guaranteed and are often not extended to the court room or any sentencing.
Always Ask to Speak With Your Attorney
Law enforcement guidelines apply to arresting officers as much as they apply to anyone else. The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to an attorney. This applies whether you ask before or during interrogation. Once someone has stated they wish to exercise their right to an attorney, law enforcement must stop the interrogation until an attorney is available for legal counsel.
This gives you huge advantage over the interrogating officer! In stead of being afraid, getting upset, or even aggravated, and volunteering information to make the situation more difficult on you, explain that even though you wish to be as cooperative as you can, you need to protect yourself by consulting with an attorney before answering any questions.
Know Your Rights, Exercise Your Rights
A voluntary admission to the police is basically the same as a “guilty plea” to the court. If you’re going to plead guilty, at least give your lawyer the opportunity to get some benefit for you in return!
Even though this is a good general description of you rights, legal advice can be very important if you are suspected of or charged with a crime. There are many nuances which can be explained in greater detail by a criminal defense attorney once your particular situation is known.