Do I Really Have the Right to Remain Silent?

If you have watched any TV crime shows, you probably are familiar with the words actors portraying police officers often use when they arrest someone. You likely have heard them say something like this: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” You may even know that those words are part of a Miranda Warning, a real legal U.S. precedent.

Yet if police arrest you in real life and tell you that you have the right to remain silent, is that really true?

Understanding the right to remain silent

Under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, those who face arrest in the United States do have the right to avoid incriminating themselves. That right includes the right to remain silent. If you face arrest, you don’t have to answer any police questions and can request an attorney immediately. In fact, remaining silent likely will be to your benefit, even if police don’t read you your Miranda Rights right away.

If you answer questions, you could say something that incriminates you or makes it appear as if you committed a crime. Police who interrogate suspects often have received training on how to get suspects to admit guilt. Without an attorney present, you make make an inaccurate confession.

Invoking the right to remain silent

You also can avoid police questioning even if you aren’t formally under arrest. All you have to do is tell police out loud that you invoke your right against self-incrimination and then ask for an attorney. You can do that even if police pull you over and eventually ask if you have drugs in your car. You shouldn’t say or sign anything after requesting an attorney. You also should avoid making any decisions about how to proceed without speaking with an attorney.

If police interrogate you without reading you your Miranda Warning, which includes your right to remain silent, you should contact an attorney. If you made a confession to a crime without having your Miranda Rights read, the charges against you could be dismissed. So could any evidence police discover because of your interrogation.

In the end, when potentially facing arrest or criminal charges, you need to protect your rights. That includes observing your right to remain silent and consulting an attorney before answering any police questions.