The Fifth Amendment right to remain silent protects a person from being forced to give testimony against them self. But how does a person know when to invoke the right? Police have the right to make investigatory stops when they have reasonable suspicion of some criminal activity and there is also reason to believe the person about to be stopped committed a crime. Police can also make a traffic stop. From my experience I have seen that when a law enforcement officer stops a person for a routine traffic violation, the officer often asks questions about conduct totally unrelated to the traffic stop. Almost every week a person comes in my office complaining because they were stopped for a traffic violation and during the stop the police officer started asking for permission to search the car. This really offends some people, yet they feel compelled to allow the police officer to search their car. I will talk about searching a car in the next article.

The Fifth Amendment right to remain silent applies all the time. You must provide information to the police such as you name, address, provide your driver’s license, registration, and insurance card, but you are not required to tell the police what you are doing or where you have been. They often ask these questions and people feel compelled to answer them. And really, it does not cause any problem to engage in conversation with the police during a routine stop. Being nice and polite is the way we should be every day of our lives. But when it is clear the police are no longer just writing a ticket or checking your license, you do not have to answer their questions.

The law states that when the police have deprived you of your freedom of movement, and the police suspect you of a crime, they are required to read your Miranda Warnings. The Miranda Warnings state you have the right to remain silent; anything you say can be used against you; you have the right to a lawyer with you at questioning; and, if you cannot afford a lawyer one will be appointed. These rights are not written into the Constitution. They are rights the U.S. Supreme Court said that every American needed to know so he or she could decide whether to invoke their right to remain silent. The difficulty in apply the rights sometimes occurs when the police ask a person to voluntarily come down for questioning.

It is essential to know and understand that police can voluntarily approach you and ask question without taking you into custody. They can ask you to come down to the police station. During these times the police will almost always read the person their Miranda Rights because the police want to dispel any argument that the individual was or felt compelled to cooperate. If we lived in a perfect world people would never make errors, mistakes, or have lapses of judgement. Young people would always have perfect judgement, and so would adults. But we don’t live in a perfect world and good people can make some bad choices. You are not required to give testimony against your self. If you are stopped for a traffic violation be polite and friendly. When it goes to far ask “Sir, why am I being questioned for these matters when I am only stopped for a traffic violation.” Be polite but firm. If you are approached by law enforcement and you have any reason to believe they are investigating a crime, INVOKE you right to an attorney and say NOTHING MORE UNTIL YOU TALK WITH AN EXPERIENCED ATTORNEY IN CRIMINAL DEFENSE. BE SAFE, NOT SORRY.

Coxwell & Associates is a law firm with its main office in Jackson, Hinds County, MS. The firm has a branch office in Ridgeland, Madison County MS. Merrida Coxwell, the managing partner, is an experienced criminal and accident and injury attorney who is known statewide for his intelligent, aggressive, and compassionate. Merrida is in demand as a lecturer at legal meetings and is called weekly to counsel less experienced attorneys on legal matters.

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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