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When can you exercise your right to remain silent?

Like many of your Derry neighbors, you can probably recite the warning. That is, you have likely heard officers inform suspects of the right to remain silent countless times on television cop shows. If officers ever detain you, exercising your right to remain silent may be the best thing you can do. 

You can exercise your right to remain silent a few ways. You can inform officers that you do not wish to talk to them. You can simply say nothing. Or, you can ask for an attorney. When it comes to asserting your right not to incriminate yourself, though, timing matters. When can you exercise your right to remain silent? 

Has there been a custodial arrest? 

The U.S. Supreme Court outlined an individual’s right to remain silent in a 1966 case. In that case, Mr. Miranda confessed to serious crimes after a prolonged interrogation. The Supreme Court threw out his confession because he did not know he did not have to incriminate himself. Before trying to obtain a confession, the Supreme Court held, officers must inform suspects of their right to remain silent. They only must do so, though, if they take an individual into custody. If officers have not detained you, they do not need to inform you of your right to remain silent. 

Are police interrogating you? 

During an interrogation, you may exercise your right to remain silent at any time. That is, you do not waive your rights by answering a few questions. If you decide you no longer wish to cooperate, you can end the interrogation by telling officers you choose to remain silent. At that point, officers should stop questioning you. Note, though, just remaining silent may not end police questioning. If you begin to speak after hours of silence, officers can legally question you until you affirmatively assert your right to remain silent. 

If officers suspect you of criminal activity, they may have little evidence. During questioning, though, detectives may be able to obtain a confession. As you may know, a confession is one of the best forms of evidence. Knowing when to exercise your right to remain silent may be your best strategy for avoiding criminal liability altogether.

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