Take Your Right to Remain Silent Seriously
by Lewis & Laws
Take Your Right to Remain Silent Seriously
Interrogated by the Police?
Most of us have seen television shows where a suspect is questioned for hours until he or she finally “cracks” and confesses. Are the police actually allowed to do this? While these scenarios are certainly dramatic, it is important to remember that television shows are not real life. In 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that interrogations which isolate suspects or use coercion to obtain a confession is likely to result in innocent people offering up a confession. The Court held that those suspects who are charged federally cannot be held and interrogated for longer than six hours before being brought before a federal judge.
Police interrogation tactics have certainly come under fire for stomping all over the fundamental right of citizens to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and to be free from self-incrimination. What might have once been considered a police officer being “tough,” is now considered unfair at best, and inhumane at worst. While most of us have heard of our Miranda Rights, many of us are not really sure just what those rights encompass. Further, few people have a solid understanding of how our Miranda Rights came to be.
The History of Miranda
In 1966, the outcome of Miranda v. Arizona provided that suspects must be informed of their specific legal rights once arrested. The decision was based on the case of Ernesto Miranda, who was accused of rape, robbery, and kidnapping. While being interrogated by the police, Ernesto confessed to the crimes, however his subsequent conviction was overturned due to police intimidation and the methods used for interrogation. Ernesto Miranda was given a new trial—and was found guilty, without the benefit of his original confession. In 1968, California Deputy Attorney General, Doris Maier and District Attorney, Harold Berliner, put the finishing touches on the Miranda Warning, which is now used across the nation.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent—Don’t Take That Right Lightly
A part of the Miranda Warning states “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” This is the part of Miranda we are discussing. If you talk after being arrested, you stand a very good chance of saying something which could later be taken out of context, then used to convict you of the crime you are charged with.
While most people know they should remain silent, it seems to be human nature to want to try and explain yourself to the police. Don’t do it! Even though the police officer may be friendly and pleasant, giving you the impression he or she merely wants to help you—and will do so if you talk—always remember this is what police officers are trained to do. Police officers are allowed to lie to you to extract a confession, so however the officer behaves, you must assume it is in an effort to persuade you to confess to a crime you may or may not have committed.
Should You Ever Talk to the Police?
In fact, some believe that you should never talk to a police officer—not just if you are accused of a crime, but never. According to this theory, if you are breaking into your own home because you lost your house key and a police officer happens by, while you are legally obligated to divulge your name, as well as what you are doing at that very moment, beyond that, do not talk. If the police officer continues to question you, simply say you will not answer any questions without a lawyer present.
Must You Say You are Remaining Silent—Or Can You Simply Remain Silent?
There is one very important caveat to remaining silent when questioned by the police—you must invoke your right to remain silent. In one Texas murder case the suspect initially talked to the police, then when asked whether ballistics testing would match his gun to casing found at the scene, he fell silent.
At the trial, the prosecution used his failure to answer that question as evidence of his guilt—needless to say, he was convicted, and the conviction was upheld by both the Texas State Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals.
The basic premise of these decisions was that a person must “expressly invoke” his or her right to silence, rather than simply remaining silent which was judged “ambiguous.” Therefore, to avoid having your silence taken for guilt, you must say, “I invoke my right to remain silent—I want an attorney.” Then stop talking for good, until your attorney arrives.
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