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right to remain silent

In our experience, local police and law enforcement officers can usually be counted on to act fairly and professionally when interacting with members of the public. Nevertheless, it is still important for you to understand your rights. So today we want to revisit one of the most important constitutional rights that we all share — the right to remain silent.

In the United States, the right to remain silent comes from that part of the Fifth Amendment which says that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This is also known as your right against self-incrimination. These rights are communicated to you with the familiar words used by law enforcement:

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 an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?

These five sentences together are known as a Miranda Warning. They are the result of the decision by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966). As a result of the Miranda decision, law enforcement officials must specifically advise anyone taken into custody of the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney. It is important for you to remember that while you have a right to remain silent, it has to be asserted by you or it will be waived. You affirmatively assert your right to remain silent by saying: “I invoke my right to remain silent” or “I am not going to answer any questions without talking to my lawyer first.” When asserting your right to remain silent, you should not offer any explanation or make any excuses for doing so. Once you invoke your right to remain silent, you must not to subsequently waive your rights by starting a conversation with the police.

In the event that you are actually arrested or detained, we recommend that you decline to answer any questions and immediately ask for a lawyer. When you you have not been detained or arrested, you you have no duty to answer any police questions at all. If you are unsure if you have been detained or arrested, you should politely ask the police if you are free to leave.

Finally, it critical that whatever you do say to the police is true. You should not lie. You should not present false documents such as a fake driver’s license. Any lie you tell or fraud you attempt to perpetrate on the police will only make your situation worse — and often leads to additional criminal charges being made against you.