Some of the most successful and long-running shows on television are police procedurals, and if you've ever seen an episode of one, you've probably heard the words, "you have the right to remain silent". Those words sound pretty straightforward, and since most people have heard them, they assume that they understand them. But what do you really know about your right to remain silent?
Research indicates that nearly a million criminal cases each year are compromised because of a suspect's misunderstanding of their Miranda rights. This suggests that it can be dangerous to assume that you understand your Miranda rights, even if it seems like common knowledge.
Take a look at these three things that you need to know about your right to remain silent.
1. You Must Invoke Your Right to Remain Silent
It's easy to assume that since you have a right to remain silent, you can do just that. However, silence alone isn't enough to stop an interrogation. If you want to remain silent (and you should) you have to speak up first.
As an example, you can say something like, "I am exercising my right to remain silent now." You don't have to use those exact words, but you must say something that makes your intent plain. Once you do that, the officers are required to stop interrogating you.
Should the officers continue asking you questions after you invoke your right to remain silent, any answers you give should be inadmissible in court.
2. You Must Avoid Waiving Your Right to Remain Silent
If you were talking to a journalist and didn't want your words to be printed, you could ask to go off-the-record, and none of your words after that would be reportable. Invoking your Miranda rights isn't like going off-the-record.
Invoking your right to remain silent means that the officers must stop questioning you, but it doesn't mean that they have to stop listening to what you say. If you make any sort of unprompted statement following your invocation of your rights, that statement can be used in court.
While you must specifically state your intention to exercise the right to remain silent, waiving that right is often implied. Some suspects don't realize this and believe that once they've invoked the right to remain silent, their next words can't be used against them. It's important that once you declare your intention to remain silent, you actually do so. The only other statement you should make is a request for an attorney.
3. Your Rights Apply Even If You Don't Hear the Miranda Warning
There are two conditions that must apply before the police are required to read you your rights. You must be in custody, and the officer must be getting ready to interrogate you. That means that if you are talking to a police officer and you haven't been arrested or otherwise placed in custody, the officer can ask you questions without reading you your rights.
The concept of what constitutes "in custody", and thus triggers the reading of the Miranda rights, can be confusing. You don't have to be formally under arrest to be considered to be in custody of the police. Usually, "in custody" means a situation where a reasonable person would believe they were not allowed to leave.
The important thing to remember is that even if you are not in custody and haven't been read your Miranda rights, you can invoke your right to remain silent. If there's any chance that you may be considered a suspect in the case you're being questioned about, you should invoke your right to remain silent. Typically, you can't be arrested for choosing to remain silent, though you could be arrested for some other reason.
Understanding your right to remain silent is a good start to your criminal defense, but it's only the first step. Your next step is to contact a skilled local attorney who can protect your rights.