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Understanding Your Right to Remain Silent

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Miranda warnings are a set of rights that must be conveyed to any person in police custody who is being questioned about a crime. One of these rights is your right to remain silent and the reason this right exists in this country is to protect you from incriminating yourself in a crime.

How it works in practice

In police custody, you have the right to remain silent and anything you say can and will be used against you. So, if you are being questioned about a crime, not only do you have the right to remain silent but it is also a good idea to remain silent – no matter how the situation is being presented to you. Are you being told that the questions are routine and not a big deal? Are you being told you will be treated better if you cooperate? Are you inclined to talk to satisfy the “good cop” Again, anything you say can and will be used against you, so it is best to remain silent.

The right extends to written statements as well

If you sign a statement or confession, it can and will be used against you. The right to remain silent applies to written statements so in addition to remaining silent, you should also refrain from signing anything.

But I did nothing wrong…

You should still remain silent no matter how confident you are in your innocence. This is because, while your words may seem harmless to you and may sound like a good and solid defense, whatever you say – or sign – can still potentially be twisted or misinterpreted and used against you.

But I already started talking…

While it is best to remain silent from the beginning, you can still exercise your right at any time. There is no specific language or magic word – just stop talking or say you are now exercising your right to remain silent or you are taking the Fifth (as in Fifth Amendment, which is the freedom from self-incrimination). Keep in mind that anything you’ve already said can be used against you. However, you can cut your losses and remain silent at any point.

Even when you’re out of police custody…

You should still continue to remain silent. Family members, friends or co-workers may want to know what happened but you should refrain from talking with anyone other than your lawyer. The reason for this is that if you do talk to someone other than your attorney, that person can be called as a witness against you.

What happens if I am arrested and the police did not read me my rights?

This is a common error people make. They don’t have to read you rights to detain or arrest you, they just have to read you your rights to question you. Sometimes they’ll just tell you what you are being charged with and have a “casual” conversation to get you to talk. But just not being read your rights is typically not a defense to a case. It is another reason that you should say nothing.

Now what?

If you have been questioned in police custody and, regardless of whether you exercised your right to remain silent, it is highly recommended that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. Tell your lawyer everything that happened before, during and after police questioning. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to assess whether any of your rights were violated, whether all required procedures were followed and what your best possible defense is. An experienced criminal defense attorney will help you get the best result possible.

If you have any questions or would like a referral to a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois please contact us at any time. All calls are free and confidential.