Before the police question a suspect under custody, they are required to give what is known as a “Miranda Warning.” You are probably familiar with this warning already. It is the familiar admonition that you have the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney. If you ever find yourself in custody, it is critical that you understand and invoke these rights to protect yourself.
The Right to Remain Silent
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against” themselves. This is known today as the right to remain silent. And that is just what the right covers. If you are questioned by the police, you do not have to answer their questions. It also means that if you are ultimately charged with a crime, you cannot be required to testify at your trial unless you elect to do so voluntarily. Your decision not to testify also cannot be cited by the prosecution as “proof” of your guilt.
The Miranda Warning also includes the admonition that “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” So even if you invoke your right not to testify in court, any prior statements that you might have made to the police could still be introduced as evidence against you. This includes anything you said prior to arrest. Keep in mind, the police are only required to give the Miranda Warning when you are in custody, i.e., you are not free to leave. But the police can still attempt to elicit potentially incriminating statements from you prior to arrest.
One final point about the right to remain silent: If you do initially agree to speak to the police and start answering questions, you can still change your mind and invoke your rights. But you need to be explicit when doing so. If you equivocate, a judge may later decide that you did not actually invoke your right to remain silent and continued speaking with the police on your own initiative.
The Right to an Attorney
While the Fifth Amendment guarantees your right to remain silent, the Sixth Amendment protects your right to the “assistance of counsel” in a criminal prosecution. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the right to counsel to require the state to appoint an attorney to represent you at no charge if you are unable to afford your own lawyer. Of course, you are always free to hire a defense attorney of your own choice.
At the same time, the police are not required to provide you with an attorney before interrogating you. You need to invoke that right. That is, you need to say, “I'm not answering any questions until I speak to an attorney,” or similar words to that effect. Once you invoke your right to counsel, the police must stop questioning you until you have had the chance to consult with a lawyer.
Contact Missouri Criminal Lawyer Keya M. Reed Today
Knowing and using your rights can help keep you out of jail. If you are charged with a crime and need legal representation from a qualified Missouri criminal defense attorney, contact The Law Office of Keya M. Reed, LLC, today!