It has been said that “silence is golden.” Never has such a
phrase been truer as to when it comes to protecting your rights. What
you say, or what you don’t say when speaking to the police, can
make all the difference in determining what may happen to you if you have
the misfortune of being accused of a criminal charge. What you don’t
say may be greater than what you do.
In a Court of Law, statements you make are the most damaging evidence that
can be used against you. When a jury hears your own words used against
you, it is hard for them not to listen. Confessions are so important that
the United States Supreme Court is constantly defining and redefining
what your rights are under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution, and
how they can be used in a Court of Law.
Historically, the legal protection against self-incrimination is directly
related to a police agency torturing you to gain information or a confession.
It used to be that a police officer could hold you for days during an
interrogation, until they force you to confess to a crime. While we believe
that such acts are no longer practiced, police agencies use more subtle
and sophisticated tactics in modern times. Because of these tactics, it
is very easy to become confused or misled during an investigation, and
you could easily say something you didn’t mean or that is taken
out of context. Sometimes, people even think that admitting to something
even if they didn’t really do it, is the only way to get out of
trouble. This is just one more way the police may manipulate to their
Because of the historical abuse by the police, and because of the importance
of your right against self-incrimination, The Supreme Court ruled in Miranda
vs. Arizona that such confessions are not admissible in a Court of Law
without you knowing your constitutional rights. The Court held in Miranda,
“the prosecution may not use statements stemming from custodial
interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural
safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.
By custodial interrogation, we mean questioning initiated by law enforcement
officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived
of his freedom of action in any significant way. As for the procedural
safeguards to be employed, unless other fully effective means are devised
to inform accused persons of their right of silence and to assure a continuous
opportunity to exercise it, the following measures are required. Prior
to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain
silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against
him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained
This is commonly referred to as your Miranda Rights. You have heard them
countless times on every movie and police television show.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will
be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney
present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will
be appointed for you”.
While it sounds simple enough, The Supreme Court has been clarifying and
narrowing your Miranda Rights ever since they ruled on it. For the warning
to be necessary, you must be questioned in custody. A person detained
in jail or under arrest is deemed to be in police custody. But the mere
presence in a police station does not indicate that you are questioned
in custody unless a reasonable person in your situation would believe
that they were in custody.
Silence is never a bad choice, and in most cases it is your best choice.
If you are ever accused of committing a crime, you are better off letting
your attorney do the talking. There will be plenty of opportunities later
to state your side of your case. If you are questioned by the police,
remember you don’t ever have to speak to them. You have the right
against self-incrimination. If you do speak to the police, make sure you
have your attorney present.