If police officers suspect you have committed a crime, you can expect them to use a variety of techniques to elicit information from you. As you probably know, if you confess to a crime or otherwise incriminate yourself, avoiding a criminal conviction may become nearly impossible.
For criminal defendants in the United States, the Fifth Amendment is tremendously important. That is, the amendment protects you from self-incrimination. Whether you are facing state or federal criminal charges, staying silent may be your best strategy for avoiding significant consequences. Here are six ways to exercise your right to remain silent.
1. Ask if you are under arrest
When officers arrest you, they prevent you from going on with your day. They cannot, however, hold you without officially detaining you. If you are not under arrest, leave the scene. Staying around to talk with officers may inadvertently encourage you to incriminate yourself.
2. Provide identification to the officer
Officers have an obligation to investigate criminal activity. Often, they must identify suspects and witnesses by asking for identification. If an officer asks you to present identification, do so safely. That is, do not reach into hidden places without first informing the officer and asking for permission. Once you have provided identification, though, you likely do not need to continue to communicate with investigators.
3. Affirmatively express your wishes
If you say nothing, you cannot incriminate yourself with your words. Still, staying silent through police questioning can be challenging. Therefore, affirmatively express your desire to remain silent. Telling officers, “I want to assert my right to remain silent,” should be sufficient.
4. Be careful about talking to others
The law provides confidentiality for most things you tell your lawyer. That privilege does not extend to many others, though. If you talk to your friends or family members, prosecutors may be able to get them to testify against you in open court.
5. Ask for a lawyer
Not only does the U.S. Constitution protect you from self-incrimination, but it also allows you to seek legal counsel. When you ask for a lawyer, officers must stop questioning you until one arrives.
6. Repeat yourself
Sometimes, officers look for legal loopholes to continue to question criminal suspects. If you are unclear about your intention to remain silent, officers may not respect your wishes. As such, you may have to reassert your rights. If officers continue to question you after you tell them you do not want to talk, you may need to repeat yourself.
Answering questions from police officers or prosecutors may be a big mistake. Fortunately, you have the right to remain silent. Understanding how to exercise your right not to incriminate yourself is essential, though. By taking advantage of a few tips, you can likely better position yourself to defend against criminal charges.