Thanks to the seemingly endless number of law enforcement dramas and reality television shows being broadcast at any given time, just about everyone in the United States is aware that when you are accused of a criminal offense you have certain rights. One of the most well-known of those rights is the right to remain silent. Do you know, however, exactly what that right means? Do you know when it applies and/or how you assert it? Can you ever be required to speak to the police or the court? While no one plans on being questioned by the police in a criminal investigation, it could happen to you at any time. Being prepared by understanding your rights could be the difference between ending up in jail or not. To help prepare you, a Nebraska criminal defense attorney explains your right to remain silent.
Where Is Your Right to Remain Silent Found?
In the United States, we operate under a federalist form of government. That means we have a strong central government (the federal government) that is prevented from becoming too strong by a number of individual semi-autonomous governments (the state governments). It also means that the U.S. Constitution remains the highest legal authority in the land. Although individual states may make their own laws, a law cannot violate or impinge on your Constitutional rights. Your right to remain silent is found in the broader right against self-incrimination found in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which reads as follows:
“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” (Emphasis added)
What Does Your Right to Remain Silent Actually Mean?
Unlike some of your other rights, your right to remain silent is a fairly straight-forward right. Beyond providing a law enforcement officer with your identity, your right to remain silent means just that – you do not have to answer questions nor speak to the police if you do not want to do so. Moreover, you can invoke your 5th Amendment right at any point in an investigation or trial. For example, if you originally agree to answer questions from a police officer but soon begin to feel uncomfortable doing so, you may invoke your right to remain silent at that time. If you also request an attorney at that time, a police officer is required to stop questioning you until you have an attorney present. If your right to remain silent was violated by the police, anything you said following that violation will be inadmissible at trial.
“The Cop Never Read Me My Rights” — Miranda Warnings
A common area of confusion is found in the Miranda warnings requirement. Named for the case that established the need for a law enforcement officer to provide the warnings, your Miranda rights only attach when you are in custody. In other words, the police are only required to read you your rights if you are considered to be in custody, and even then, only if they plan to question you. If, for example, the police stop you and ask if they can “talk” to you, no Miranda warning is required. Your right to remain silent still exists; however, the police officer is not required to tell you it exists at that point. Furthermore, if you are clearly under arrest, but the police have no intention of questioning you, Miranda warnings are not required.
Your right to remain silent can be complicated. If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, and you feel the police violated your right to remain silent, it is certainly in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney right away. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.