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What’s the “right to remain silent” really mean?

| Jun 19, 2021 | Violent Crimes

There are a variety of reasons that a person might find themselves being questioned or interrogated by the police. Most people are familiar with the phrase, “You have the right to remain silent.” 

Where does this phrase come from, and when and how should we use our right to remain silent? 

What are your Miranda Rights?

Police became required to advise people of their Miranda Rights (or Miranda Warning) after Miranda v. Arizona, a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1966. This is an affirmative, mandated reminder of a person’s 5th Amendment rights, including their right against self-incrimination.

When are the police required to Mirandize you?

The police only have to issue a reminder of your right to remain silent (among other rights) when you are both in official custody and being interrogated. 

In other words, they can ask you questions without reminding you that you have rights against self-incrimination as long as you aren’t under arrest or otherwise in police custody. They can also detain you or arrest you without giving you a Miranda Warning as long as they aren’t asking questions (interrogating you) designed to uncover incriminating information.

If you are not clear about what is going on, simply ask the officer, “Am I free to go?” If you can leave, do so. On the other hand, if you are not free to go,  they must advise you of your Miranda Rights before they question you.

When should you exercise your right to remain silent?

You have the right to remain silent regardless of any official duty to remind you of that right — so use it.

It is advisable to vocally assert your right to remain silent, and then do so whenever you’re being questioned by the police — even if you are not in custody. While you may be required to give your identifying information to an officer, you should invoke your right against self-incrimination the minute that the questions take a turn that is designed to elicit information that relates to a crime.

When you’re facing criminal charges and your future is in danger, don’t try to guess what you need to do next. An experienced defense attorney can help.

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