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 advantage.
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 or appointed.”
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.