Daniel J. Wright
Understanding Your Right to Remain Silent
One of the most fundamental and important rights that American citizens possess is the right to remain silent when facing criminal charges. You have probably seen plenty of TV and movie scenes where a police officer tells a suspect about this right, but you might not thoroughly understand how it affects criminal proceedings in real life. So what exactly does this right entail, and how can one invoke it?
Fifth Amendment Privileges
The right to remain silent is rooted in the Fifth Amendment. Every American citizen is protected by the Fifth Amendment, which states that you are not legally required to be a witness against yourself. This is typically referred to as the right against self-incrimination. For example, if you are apprehended at the scene of a crime and a police officer asks if you were involved, you are not legally required to answer with a definitive “yes” or “no” response.
The right to remain silent is included in a set of rights commonly known as your “Miranda rights.” These rights were outlined in the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona, which determined that police officers are required to inform arrestees of these legal rights. Your Miranda rights include:
- The right to remain silent
- Knowledge that anything you say could be used against you in court
- The right to speak with a criminal defense lawyer
- The right to hire a lawyer of your choice or be represented by a public defender for free
- The right to have your lawyer present during any questioning
- The right to stop an interview at any point if you have chosen to speak with the police
Your Rights While in Custody
If you are arrested or if the police interrogate you while you are in custody, they must first inform you of your rights. If they fail to read your rights to you, the information they collect from you would likely be considered inadmissible in court.
It’s imperative to know that this only applies to situations where you are in custody — in other words, you are held by the police and are unable to leave — and not in situations where you technically aren’t “in custody.” This caveat allows police officers to question suspects before arresting them, allowing the interrogating officers to collect viable answers before reading out the individual’s Miranda rights.
For this reason, some people choose not to speak to police officers without a lawyer present — even in low-risk situations and even if they are innocent.
Need More Legal Help? Talk to a Lawyer.
It’s important to understand your basic legal rights as they apply to criminal matters, but if you’re like most people, you probably don’t feel completely comfortable navigating these legal matters on your own. Remember, you don’t have to represent yourself if you’ve been charged with a criminal offense and you have the ability to seek legal counsel from an attorney of your choosing. If you aren’t sure how your right to remain silent might affect your case, a criminal defense lawyer Fairfax VA residents rely on may help you better understand this issue.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from the Virginia Crime & Traffic Law Firm for their insight into criminal defense.