Do you REALLY have the right to remain silent?


If there’s one thing I love, it’s sitting on the sofa after a long day at work and watching a good police drama. In every single episode, there is at least one scene where the police officer is reading the suspect his rights and he is reminded that he has the right to remain silent. But what happens when a suspect is brought to the station willingly and is questioned without being under arrest?

The 5th Amendment tells us that you do not have to admit to a crime or say anything that may be used against you later on. This is where we get the phrase “I plead the fifth” and it is one of the most important rights we have when dealing with the criminal justice system.

Recently, the Supreme Court answered that exact question. In Salinas v. Texas, the suspect in a murder investigation was brought in (the suspect went in voluntarily) for questioning. He spoke openly to the police until he was asked about the alleged murder weapon. At that point, the suspect quit talking. When he was taken to trial, the prosecutor argued that his silence during the questioning could be used to show that the suspect was guilty. The suspect’s attorney argued that he had a right to remain silent and was not required to answer the police officer’s questions. (Salinas v. State, 369 S. W. 3d 176).

The Supreme Court ultimately decided that when a suspect is being questioned and has not been read his Miranda rights, what he says (or doesn’t say) is not protected under the 5th amendment. What this means is that if you are brought in for questioning about a crime but never formally charged or read your Miranda rights, your silence is not protected by the 5th amendment right to silence. Gone are the days of providing helpful information to the police without the concern of that information being used against you at a later date.

What can you do if you find yourself in this situation? The first and most important step is to ask for a lawyer. Once you say those magic words, you have put the police on notice that you do not intend to answer any of their questions without appropriate legal advice. It is especially important to ask for a lawyer before the questioning gets started. That way, you avoid the trap seen in the Salinas case, where the suspect only stopped talking once they asked about the murder weapon. It is important to remember that you have very important rights and that the police should never pressure you into answering questions that make you uncomfortable. I can assure you that when we have represented police in their problems, the very first thing they say after “hello” is this: “Mr. Coxwell the police questioning me did not read me my rights.” I am not kidding you!

So in summary, use your rights. After all they are rights. If you think you might be a suspect, invoke your right to a lawyer and the right to remain silent. Don’t have any “off the record discussion” because those discussions do not exist. Give your background or biographical information and nothing else until you talk to your lawyer. If you don’t listen to this advice, then you are ignoring your rights.

If you or a loved one has been questioned by the police without an attorney present, please feel free to contact the skilled attorneys at Coxwell & Associates today so that we can discuss your rights. Merrida Coxwell has over 32 years helping Mississippians solve their legal problems.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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