You have a constitutional right to remain silent. With some exceptions, you do not need to respond when law enforcement question you.
You must expressly invoke your right to remain silent whether or not you have been arrested. Protecting yourself from self-incriminating statements may be important – even if you are innocent.
Some people try to explain situations to law enforcement, only to find those statements used against them. This is compounded when other witnesses have different accounts or if you are nervous and accidentally give wrong information. When stakes are high and when the situation is stressful, it may be a wise decision to exercise your right to remain silent.
If the police are interrogating you, in addition to staying quiet, you may wish to exercise your right to counsel. Regardless of the pressure of the situation, you have a right to have an attorney during questioning. Having a criminal defense attorney present at early stages may affect the outcome.
When You Are Reminded of Your Right to Remain Silent
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states no person shall serve as a witness against themselves in a criminal matter. Essentially, you are protected from self-incriminating statements by your ability to stay quiet when questioned by police.
Before questioning you, law enforcement should remind you of your Fifth Amendment protection by reading the Miranda warning. Just like on television, the warning contains four statements, including your right to remain silent.
Police officers are required to read Miranda when:
- They arrest you – meaning you are in custody and your liberties are restricted, and
- They intend to interrogate you – meaning they plan to ask you questions that could result in an incriminating response.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent Even If No Miranda Warning is Read
Absent conditions stated above, police officers are not required to read Miranda warnings to every person. In other words, if an officer only stops you (but has not arrested you), they do not have to remind you of your right to remain silent. However, the protections of the Fifth Amendment are still applicable.
Your right to remain silent applies during any interaction with law enforcement officials. For example, if an officer merely stops you on the street, you can invoke your right to remain silent.
How Remaining Silent Protects You
A talented officer may ask questions in a way that does not reveal a motive. You will not know if that officer is just gathering information, is looking for possible involvement in an alleged offense, is actively trying to link you to a crime, or is trying to show you are not telling the truth. If you have not been arrested, the officers may be seeking evidence to establish cause to take you into custody. If you have been arrested, may be seeking statements for the prosecutor to build a case against you.
By answering an officer’s questions, you might feel you are explaining your side of the story or reducing suspicions against you... and perhaps you are. You may also be walling yourself in.
A case is rarely dismissed or charges dropped based on an explanation during interrogation.
What you say to officials might be out of context and used to build a case against you. Also, if you make inconsistent statements due to nervousness, those statements may later be deemed lies. Even slight inconsistencies or changes in accounts can be used by law enforcement to build a case against a person.
To be protected by the Fifth Amendment’s provisions, explicitly state you will remain silent. Tell the officer, “I wish to remain silent.” Keeping quiet without actually telling officers that you are invoking your constitutional protections may be more problematic than simply stating, I choose to remain silent.
Consult an Attorney During Police Interactions
An attorney can assess your situation and advise you on whether to make statements. An attorney can help you understand your right to remain silent and other constitutional protections.
You are afforded the right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If you want to invoke this right, clearly say so to authorities.
If you need assistance with your criminal case in Des Moines, contact Branstad & Olson at (515) 329-3100.