I have written frequently on a person’s individual right to remain silent when questioned by the police. This is a right found in the United States Constitution and in the Mississippi Constitution. It is called the “right to remain silent” or the Fifth (5th) Amendment right. The famous case from the U. S. Supreme Court that requires the police or any law enforcement officer to warn you of your rights is Miranda v. Arizona. Sadly, in recent years the Fifth Amendment right and other personal, important individual rights have been diminished by a U. S. Supreme Court that is more interested in the powers of government then in the rights of personal freedom.

In the recent case of Berghuis v. Thompkins, the U. S. Supreme Court held that the individuals invocation of his right to remain silent must be “clear and unambiguous.” The facts in this decision reflected constant questioning of a suspect by police. Some of the non-lawyers who I presented a copy of the opinion said they believed the police were badgering the suspect. I could not disagree. I am in favor of strong law enforcement, but I am more strongly in favor of the protection of individual rights. In my opinion government exists for the people, the people do not exist for the government.

If you get stopped by law enforcement you must be careful of what you say if they begin to suspect you of a crime. First, in a routine traffic stop the officer can require your driver license, registration, and insurance card. Without any other reasonable suspicion the officer should not start questioning you about whatever he feels like investigating. Unfortunately, this often happens, especially in the suburbs where the officers seem to have a “us against the public mentality.” Once your license, registration and insurance are checked out you should ask to leave. You are not required to consent to a search of your car and person. If you do consent to a search then you may have given up your right to contest any evidence seized by the police.

If the law enforcement officer starts to hold you or you do not feel free to leave, you do not have to answer any questions that may incriminate you in any crime. If you want to invoke you rights you must clearly and unambiguously say: 1). You want to speak with a lawyer, 2). You do not wish to make any statement of any kind. Police officers are very good at trying to convince you to waive your rights or trick you into waiving your rights. If you want your rights to have any meaning then you need to clearly and forcefully say “I want a lawyer and I do not wish to talk with you.” Once you say this you have to keep quiet. Often officers will send a different officer around who was not involved in your arrest to casually start talking to you with the hope you will open up and make a statement. The only way you can effectively elect to use you rights is to do what I tell you and make no statement of any kind. Don’t make a written, oral, or an “off the record” statement until you have had the opportunity to speak with a lawyer.

You have rights guaranteed by the U.S. and Mississippi Constitution. If you want to protect yourself use them. Once you have consulted with a lawyer you can make an informed decision about what is in your best interest. Until you talk with a lawyer you will not know how to proceed in a criminal case.

Merrida Coxwell is an attorney who has approximately thirty (30) years experience helping people charged with crimes and offenses. Merrida is recognized across Mississippi as a leader among criminal defense attorneys. For a free consultation call 601.948.1600 or e mail Merrida at Merrida’s law firm is located in Jackson, Hinds County, MS. However, Merrida practices across the entire state of Mississippi.

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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