We’ve all heard it on TV and in movies, “you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law…” Your right to remain silent comes from the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution; this particular warning comes from the famous Miranda v. Arizona Supreme Court case. Pretty much everyone has heard of their right to remain silent, but shockingly many people disregard it and do irreperable harm to themselves.
So why should you exercise your right to remain silent? Put simply, when you are being questioned, the police are not your friends. Regardless of what they say, they are not there to help you. They are investigating an alleged crime and looking to close their case by getting incriminating evidence against a suspect. That suspect is likely you.
The biggest problem for the person being questioned is the unknown. What information do the police already have? WHat have other witnesses or suspects told them? You are at a major disadvantage because they know the answers to these questions and you do not. Making this problem worse, the police are legally allowed to lie to you to get you to talk. They can tell you that Bob said you did it and that you were the ringleader. They can tell you that if you tell them what they want to hear they’ll recomend leniency with the judge (and then not do it).
Your biggest (and possibly only weapon) is to remain silent. In a criminal court the police and prosecution must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt with evidence. You do not want that evidence to come from your own mouth. If you remain silent and they do not have strong enough evidence against you, your silence protects you.
Often times people worry that if they remain silent the police will be mad at them and will go harder on them than if they cooperate. Firstly, every police officer I’ve every spoken to completely understands the right to remain silent. When I’ve represented officers and gotten referrals from officers, you’d better believe that they completely understood and exercised their right to remain silent. They expect a good lawyer to tell his/her client to remain silent. They may act like silence is indicative of guilt (“what do you have to hide?” or “you don’t need a lawyer unless you are guilty…”) but deep down they understand that’s not the case. Secondly, if you keep your mouth shut and the police arrest/charge you, they were going to do that no matter what you did. You exercising your right to remain silent didn’t push them to charge you.
If you exercise your right to remain silent you protect yourself and give your lawyer something with which to work. Just remember to be polite and calm when you exercise your right to remain silent. You may be (probably are) recorded, so remember that a judge or jury will likely see your interview and judge you on what you say and how you act. If you are respectful and police (“I’m sorry sir, but my lawyer has told me not to make any statements or answer any quesitons without him present.”) you look reasonable and don’t give them any ammunition to use against you.