What Does the Right to Remain Silent Mean?
The right to remain silent comes from a core group of rights provided to you in the United States Constitution. In fact, in 1966, the Supreme Court decided in the case of Miranda v. Arizona that a person taken into police custody must be told of their Fifth Amendment rights before being questioned.
Your Fifth Amendment rights are those that give you the right to remain silent. These rights state that you do not have to make self-incriminating statements to the police, and before answering the officer’s questions, you must be told of four key rights.
The Four Rights Provided to You in the “Miranda Warning”
When given your Miranda warning, you must be told of four critical items:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say to officers during the questioning can and will be used against you at trial.
- You have the right to contact and hire an attorney.
- If you are unable to pay for a lawyer, the state will appoint one (a public defender).
When Do You Have the Right to Remain Silent?
There is a catch to this right, and officers do know when they must tell you of your right and when they do not. Therefore, it is imperative that you understand your rights.
Officers are only required to provide you with the Miranda warning when you are in police custody. Therefore, casually questioning you or interrogating without arrest does not always mean you will receive Miranda warnings.
The term interrogation does not just mean questioning, but any words or actions that can force a self-incriminating response. Therefore, if the answer to a simple question could potentially incriminate you, you should be provided with your Miranda warning.
You can also be Mirandized even if you are not technically in custody. Anytime you perceive yourself as “not being free to leave” the presence of officers, you should be given your rights. This avoids any issues with what is said to the police during the period of time wherein you do not feel free to walk away.
Officers will try to question suspects letting them know that they are not under arrest and can leave. This allows them to forgo the Miranda warning requirement because they are notifying you that you can leave their custody. In this case, prosecutors could use what you say against you, but they still could not use your silence as an admission of guilt.
Ensuring the Right to Silence Is Invoked Properly
In some cases, silence can be used against you in court. However, a 2013 Supreme Court decision had the effect of making it even more difficult to know exactly when you can invoke your right to silence. The average person being questioned by the police does not know criminal procedure, what their Constitutional rights are exactly, nor how those rights are interpreted.
When a person is out-of-custody – but is talking with an inquisitive officer – they still need to find a way to invoke their right to remain silent. The officer may try to give you the impression that you’re “just talking,” but rest assured that anything you say that is incriminating will end up in the police report, and will very likely be used against you in court. Therefore, courts state that a person can stop “chatting” with an officer by stating clearly that they are invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination; instead of simply staying silent.
By doing so, you are protecting yourself. Speaking will likely only get you into trouble. Invoking your right to remain silent protects you, and your silence cannot be introduced in court to try to make you look guilty.
Invoke Your Right, then Call an Attorney
You have the right to remain silent, but also the right to hire an attorney. Even if the police are “just questioning” you, it is in your best interest to contact an attorney in New Mexico for assistance. An attorney can ensure that you properly invoke your rights. And the earlier an attorney gets involved, the less likely it becomes that you will find yourself under arrest for something you said accidentally.