What Does the Right to Remain Silent Mean?

“You have the right to remain silent.”

We often hear these words uttered in everything from television crime dramas to news media broadcasts. But what do these words mean exactly? And what rights to they offer criminal defendants?

At its most basic level the “right to remain silent” means exactly what it says: you do not have to talk to the police, to the prosecution, to the judge, to anyone. Moreover, the fact that you choose not to speak to the police or answer their questions cannot be used against you in a court of law. In other words, a judge cannot find you guilty simply by virtue of the fact that you chose not to answer a police officer’s questions.

The police are required to inform you of your right to remain silent at the time of arrest. This is called the Miranda warning. Not only are the police required to inform defendants of their right to remain silent, but they must also remind defendants that, if they do choose to speak to the police or prosecution, anything they say can be used against them in the court of law. The failure to provide a Miranda warning is a violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights and can result in exclusion of certain testimony from the case or, in some cases, dismissal of charges.

Police officers sometimes use various tactics to get a defendant to talk – some of which are permissible and others that are not. For instance, a police officer may promise reduced charges or reduced jail time if you answer his or her questions, but these promises are not ones that the police can make since they are matters left to the discretion of the prosecution or the judge. For these reasons, it is very important that, if you are arrested, you don’t answer any questions without first contacting a lawyer. In fact, it is highly recommended that you not answer any questions without a lawyer present with you during the questioning.

There are limits, however, to the right to remain silent, especially in cases of non-custodial questioning. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court held that in order for a suspect who is not in custody to invoke his or her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, he or she must affirmatively assert the right to remain silent. If a suspect is called in for questioning and he or she simply fails to respond to the officer’s questions, the silence could be used as evidence against the defendant if charges are eventually brought against him or her.

Accordingly, if you are arrested or called in for questioning, it is important that you affirmatively assert your right to remain silent instead of just ignoring the questions. Promptly indicate that you do not intend to answer any questions and that you want to speak with your lawyer.

Contact a Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are arrested or called in for police questioning, you should immediately contact a criminal defense lawyer. The criminal defense lawyers at Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys represent clients throughout Minnesota in connection with criminal charges ranging from DWI and drug crimes to domestic violence and murder charges. We will ensure that your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent is protected and seek to exclude any ill-gotten evidence or testimony from the record.

Contact Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys at (952) 913-1421 today to schedule a free informational consultation with our Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer.

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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