It’s hard to overstate the importance of your right to remain silent. This fundamental right is a cornerstone of the U.S. criminal justice system, protecting us from making self-incriminating statements that prosecutors can use against us. But when and how do you invoke this right? Does it have limits?

What Is the Right to Remain Silent?

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says that no person can be forced to be a witness against themselves, guarantees the right to remain silent. In other words, if you are arrested or detained by police, you do not have to share information that a prosecutor might use against you in court.

Whenever you interact with the police, such as during a traffic stop or under interrogation, they can document anything you say, the hand that over to prosecutors, and use it to try to convict you.

When Do I Have the Right to Remain Silent?

Broadly speaking, the Supreme Court’s 1964 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona holds that you have the right to remain silent in any interaction with police or prosecutors. Per the terms of this ruling, when police place you under arrest or detention, they must advise you of your Constitutional rights, one of which is the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions that could be self-incriminating while you are under arrest, being held for questioning, or on the stand at trial.

However, in the 60 years since this landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has narrowed its reach and created certain exceptions. One is that questioning that happens before arrest or detention also falls outside of the rights established in Miranda. Therefore, police do not have to remind you of this right at these times. Furthermore, the court’s 2013 ruling in Salinas v. Texas holds that a suspect’s refusal to answer questions in these circumstances can be presented as evidence against them at trial, unless they clearly invoke their right to silence.

It is important to understand that you are under no obligation to answer police questioning outside of a lawful arrest or detention. Law enforcement officers are often tunnel-visioned to solve a case and blame someone for it, not to help you. If the police start to question you, ask them, “Am I under arrest?” If they answer yes, they must read you your rights. If the answer is no, you must clearly invoke your right to silence for it to be effective.

How to Invoke Your Right to Remain Silent

If you ever find yourself under arrest or in police custody, you can safely invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent by:

  • Remaining calm, respectful, and polite toward the police at all times
  • Following the police officer’s instructions so they don’t think you’re resisting
  • Stating clearly that you intend to remain silent by saying something like, “I choose to exercise my right to remain silent.”
  • Refusing to answer any further questions once you invoke your rights
  • Refusing to provide written or recorded statements or sign any documents
  • Asking for a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible

Contact an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’re facing criminal accusations or charges, you need an experienced criminal defense team to protect your rights. You need Zeiger Law Firm. Contact us today to discuss your case during a free, confidential review session with a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.