Understanding Your Right to Remain Silent
You know it from television, if nothing else: As a criminal suspect, you have the right to remain silent. Whether or not you know it by name, you are probably also familiar with what is known as the Miranda warning, which is the statement police read to suspects in their custody along the lines of, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law . . . .”
But, do you know how these important Constitutional principles protect you? Do you know what it means if the police fail to read you the Miranda warning? Understanding your rights and hiring a criminal defense lawyer who knows how to use them to protect you could mean the difference between walking free and facing a guilty verdict at trial.
The Protection Against Self-Incrimination
The right to remain silent in criminal cases comes from the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment protects all citizens against self-incrimination, and as a criminal suspect, the government cannot compel you to make statements that implicate your involvement in a crime.
In order to make sure criminal suspects understand this right, in a 1966 case known as Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court held that prosecutors and law enforcement officers must employ safeguards “effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.” More specifically, the Supreme Court instructed the police to warn suspects of both (i) their right to remain silent, and (ii) their right to have an attorney present during interrogations. This is where we got the “Miranda warning” that we have today.
Understanding When Your Rights Apply
Importantly, while the Fifth Amendment’s protections apply at all times, the police are only required to read the Miranda warning to suspects who are in custody. If you are not in custody, the police do not have to read you your rights, but you also do not have to say anything that could be used against you regardless of where you are. As a result, if you have been pulled over, if you are facing a search warrant, or if the police simply stop you to ask some questions, you can (and often should) stay silent in order to protect yourself.
What if the police interrogate you without giving you the Miranda warning? If the police interrogate you in custody without reading your rights, then any self-incriminating statements you make may be inadmissible in court. Any evidence the government obtains acting on your statements could be inadmissible as well.
However, if you are not read your rights and you volunteer information while in custody—as opposed to in response to interrogation—your voluntary statements are likely admissible against you.
These are important protections and understanding when they apply, when they do not apply, and how to enforce them will be critical to asserting the strongest possible defense.
The safest bet when the police are asking you questions, regardless of where you are, is to politely decline to answer questions and demand an opportunity to call a criminal defense lawyer.
Learn More about Your Rights – Contact Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, PLLC, a Raleigh Criminal Defense Law Firm
The defense attorneys at the law firm of Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, PLLC provide experienced representation for criminal suspects in the Raleigh, NC area. If you have been arrested or are under investigation for any state or federal crime, we invite you to contact us immediately to discuss your case.