Your right to remain silent: How and when to invoke it

Published on
May 10, 2023

Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, you have an absolute right against self-incrimination. Your right to remain silent is guaranteed, and a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision gave the authorities an affirmative obligation to remind you of that right (among others) via a Miranda Warning. However, the police only have to give you a Miranda Warning when you are both in custody and being interrogated. There’s a lot of ground that remains uncovered -- so it’s smart to understand that you can (and should) invoke your rights even when you haven’t been given a warning.

Silence is golden when you’re dealing with the authorities

Imagine this: You’re asked to come down to the police station and talk about a body that’s been found. The police suspect murder, and they tell you that you aren’t a suspect -- they just want any information you may have that might help them. They’re lying to you. You’re absolutely a suspect, and the police are hoping you’ll incriminate yourself and give them the information they need to prosecute you. Since you aren’t (yet) under arrest, however, they don’t have any obligation to remind you of your right to remain silent. They’re hoping you’ll forget. It’s important to note merely staying silent when being questioned by the police isn’t really the best option. That doesn’t give the police any reason to stop asking questions -- and they’re very good at wearing people down or riling them up to get them to talk.

What can you do if you’re faced with questions from the police?

Verbally invoke your right to remain silent. That leaves no room for doubt about your intentions and puts the police on notice. Then, ask to speak to an attorney. That should stop all the questions. Quite often, a defense to any criminal charge starts long before the handcuffs are brought out and someone is arrested. Understanding more about your legal rights can help protect your interests.

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