In movies and on TV, you’ve undoubtedly seen detectives read suspects their Miranda rights so often you have practically memorized it. Even though in real life the police aren’t always so quick to inform those they’ve detained about their constitutional rights — to remain silent and to consult with a lawyer – or at least do so accurately, you can probably recite all or most of it by heart. But do you really understand what those words mean, and what you should do if you ever find them being recited to you (or even before you have them read to you)?
First, these warnings did not spring from the fertile imagination of screenwriters or directors; they derive from the Founding Fathers, and the Bill of Rights they added to the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment, for instance, prevents prosecutors or courts from forcing a witness to give testimony against his or her own interest. In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by a narrow 5-4 margin, overturned the kidnapping and rape convictions of Ernesto Miranda, a Phoenix man who, after two hours of police questioning, signed a confession, which declared it was made voluntarily and not om response to threats or promises.
Why should you never answer police questions, whether or not you’ve been advisedof your right to remain silent and have legal counsel with you? Since anything you say can and will be used against you, be brief, clear and respectful – but not talkative.
In the first place, police have their job to do – determining whom to charge for suspected or discovered crimes, and whatever they may lead you to believe, being your friend is not part of it. Trying to talk your way out of suspicion by answering questions, especially ones you don’t know why they’re being asked. Even if investigators invite you to ”help yourself out” or help them figure out who’s really at fault.” Any veteran criminal defense lawyer can tell you an innocent person is far more likely to talk his or her way into trouble by waiving the right to remain silent during police questioning.
Further, while what you don’t say can’t hurt you, even well-meant attempts to give interrogators facts to show them why it’s only some misunderstanding that has interested them in you. Even a joke you make to ease tensions can wind up being viewed by investigators as a damaging admission and be used against you. Since you’re not professionally trained on what statements will be allowed in court, and lack a thorough understanding of the potential legal ramifications of every remark you make, you should politely say something clear and straightforward like ”I want to remain silent,” then persist in that position. You should also tell your would-be inquisitors that you want to talk to your lawyer.
Ignore them if they try to persuade you that only the clearly guilty would make such a request. First, it’s your constitutional right. And do you think that your questioners would raise objections or try to dissuade you from having a lawyer with you if they thought that would make it easier for them to connect you with a crime, or if it made that task harder? Finally, if you are smart enough to have a lawyer with you, also be smart enough to leave the talking to your lawyer.