You have the right to remain silent. Everyone who watches crime dramas on television has heard about that right. Unfortunately, people who don’t have frequent encounters with the police rarely understand how important it is to exercise that right.
Why You Should Exercise the Right to Remain Silent
Constitutional rights are useless if you don’t use them. Even if you are entirely innocent of a crime, you should not speak to a police officer who views you as a suspect. If you don’t know whether you might be a suspect, assume the worst. The police are not required to tell the truth when they claim they don’t suspect you of wrongdoing.
If you answer an officer’s questions, you have no control over how the police will interpret your statements. They might misunderstand what you’re saying. They might make mistakes when they quote you in a police report. They might take your words out of context to make it seem that you’re lying. Some officers might even try to put words in your mouth. The only way to protect yourself from the claim that your statement amounted to a confession is to make no statement at all.
Don’t Wait for a Miranda Warning
You might get the impression from television shows that the police can never use your words against you unless you have been given a Miranda warning. That is only true if the police are required to give you a Miranda warning. Even then, any statement you make that does not result from police interrogation can be used against you.
If you are not under arrest, the odds are good that the police can question you without giving you a Miranda warning. If you answer those questions, your answers can be used as evidence in court. You should always assume that anything you say to a police officer will come back to haunt you.
Why You Should Talk to a Lawyer Before Talking to a Police Officer
When people are questioned by the police, they often fear that not answering questions will make them “look guilty” in the officer’s eyes. It is important to understand that what the officer believes isn’t important. What a jury believes is the only thing that matters. Talking to the police without obtaining legal advice is a good way to talk yourself into a criminal conviction.
If you saw a crime and reported it to the police, it is usually safe to talk to the police about what you saw. If the police initiate contact with you, however, it is wise to seek legal advice before answering any questions.
You have the right to speak to a lawyer whether or not the police tell you about that right. If a police officer appears to be angry when you say that you need to speak to a lawyer, you are doing the right thing by asserting your right to have an attorney at your side.
A lawyer might be willing to let you talk to the police under controlled circumstances with the lawyer present. In many cases, however, the lawyer will simply notify the police that you are represented by counsel and will ask that any questions be directed to the lawyer. Your best protection against the unexpected consequences of cooperating with the police is to get legal advice before you decide to answer any questions.
The experience of your lawyer will make a big difference in the sentencing you face, as well as the outcome of your trial.
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