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Miranda: Your right to remain silent

You have the right to remain silent. This is a critical element of your civil rights, yet many do not fully grasp its importance. Unfortunately, law enforcement officers may take advantage of this fact when questioning someone suspected of a crime.

The right to remain silent is part of a Supreme Court ruling commonly known as "Miranda." Reading your Miranda rights is something every police officer must do when they place you under arrest. However, your rights extend beyond the moment of your arrest.

What are your rights?

The Miranda warnings advise you of your rights in what may be a tense and stressful situation. For some, hearing the Miranda warning is a reminder, but others may be unaware that they have the following rights:

  • You do not have to answer any questions authorities ask you.
  • If you choose to answer questions, whatever you say can become evidence against in court.
  • You may have an attorney present before and during questioning.
  • As soon as you invoke your right to remain silent or request an attorney, which you must clearly do, police must stop the interview.

After police read you these rights, you must confirm that you understand them before police can proceed with their questioning. If police fail to warn you of your Miranda rights and their interrogation of you provides them with incriminating evidence, the court may decide not to admit that evidence or anything you said to police during that interview. Additionally, if police intimidate you into making a statement, such as depriving you of sleep, the court may reject that statement as well.

Watch what you say

It is not unusual for police to question someone without reading the Miranda rights first. For example, if police talk to you when you are not in custody, you may unintentionally provide incriminating evidence thinking that such statements don't count unless they take place during formal interrogations. This is far from true. If you are not in custody or under formal questioning, police do not have to read you the Miranda rights, and your statement can still become evidence against you.

Additionally, if police read you your Miranda warning before an interrogation then bring you back days or weeks later for a second interrogation, they do not have to repeat the Miranda rights. Answering questions in a second interview will likely count as a waiver of your right to remain silent. For these reasons, it is wise to provide police with your identification then politely refuse to speak until you can consult with a California attorney.

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