Do You Really Have The Right To Remain Silent?

You've undoubtedly seen countless television dramas where a suspect is cuffed and "read their rights," beginning with those memorable words, "You have the right to remain silent." Many of us, however, probably don't really understand what those words mean. These words, known as the Miranda warning, must be spoken to anyone about to be arrested and must be conveyed before they are questioned. A somewhat puzzling situation can occur, however, when a suspect is being questioned at a police station, but has not actually been arrested. Do you still have rights?

Powerful rights afforded by the Fifth Amendment

As the warning goes, anything you say from the time you are "Miranda-ized" could be used against you in a court of law. This warning is meant to put a person on formal notice that they are not required to answer questions without having their attorney present. This affords people an opportunity to have a legal professional on hand, advising them on what to say, or what not to say, to avoid self-incrimination. If you wish to evoke your right against self-incrimination, you simply must state "I invoke my right under the Fifth Amendment not to answer, on the grounds I may incriminate myself." It's worth noting that this phrase may be paraphrased; it's not necessary too recite it word-for-word.

Being questioned without arrest

On the other hand, if you are told that you are free to go at any time and are not held in a locked room, there are no such protections available. There are no laws that require police officers read you the Miranda warning or anything else. However, you should know that if you are given the impression that you are not free to simply get up and walk out, you must have been given the Miranda warning. Failing to do so could cause any subsequent questioning, testimony or even confessions to be "thrown out" and nullified.

Keeping quiet

What if you simply clammed up and refused to answer questions? A 2013 Supreme Court ruling surprised the legal world when it proclaimed that keeping silent, and thus not evoking your Fifth Amendment right, could be interpreted as a sign of guilt. The bottom line, in light of this ruling, is that even those who are not read their Miranda warning, be they under arrest or not, should make a concerted effort to speak the phrase and evoke your rights to keep silent, if you wish to do so.

To learn more about your rights against self-incrimination, consult with a criminal attorney like Abom & Kutulakis LLP.