Your right to remain silent after you’ve been charged with a criminal offense is one of the most important rights you have. You’ve likely seen TV shows and movies featuring police officers reading someone their “Miranda Rights,” which includes the right to remain silent. However, this legal right is a little more complex than it initially sounds, and there are some situations wherein it might not necessarily apply.
The Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment states that American citizens have the right against self-incrimination, which is more commonly referred to as the right to remain silent. There are a few main components to this right. It means that:
- A defendant is not required to testify against himself or herself in court;
- That anything he or she chooses to say after being arrested might be used against him or her in court; and
- That choosing to stay silent cannot be interpreted as evidence that the individual is guilty.
Police officers are required to inform people that they have the right to remain silent when they arrest them. This is often called “Mirandizing” someone. If the police fail to inform someone of this right, anything he or she says after being arrested is not admissible as evidence in court. However, there is one major loophole to this rule, and through it, many police officers have found their way around the law.
The Technical Definition of “In Custody”
The way that police officers can avoid “Mirandizing” suspects and reading them their Miranda rights is by questioning them before issuing an official arrest. In this situation, a police officer would inform the person in question that he or she has not been arrested, is not in custody, and can leave at any time. They do not have to inform the suspect of his or her right to remain silent, and that anything he or she says could be used as self-incriminating evidence in court. Furthermore, if the person chooses to remain silent at this time and is later arrested, the prosecution could use the person’s silence as evidence in court of his or her guilt.
Of course, even if a police officer fails to inform you of this right, and even when you are not under arrest, you are still protected by the Fifth Amendment. To invoke your Fifth Amendment rights, you simply need to explicitly say that you wish to be protected against self-incrimination before refusing to answer questions.
Your Right To Consult With a Lawyer
If you’ve been charged with a crime, or if you suspect that you might be, you also have the right to consult with a professional lawyer, like a criminal defense lawyer Rockville MD relies on. Your lawyer can provide additional legal counsel regarding your right to remain silent. Even if you have not been formally charged with a crime — and even if you are not guilty of committing a crime — you are not obligated to speak up in a police investigation against you. Furthermore, if you were arrested and the police failed to inform you of your Miranda rights, it’s even more important to contact a criminal defense lawyer for help as soon as possible.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from the Law Office of Daniel J. Wright for their insight into understanding your right to remain silent.