When and How to Invoke Your Right to Silence: Legal Guidance

We are all familiar with the reading of a suspects Miranda rights from crime dramas on TV and in movies. The police remind us we have basic rights including; your right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney, the right for a lawyer to be present during questioning, and the right to have an attorney present during interrogation.

Unfortunately, knowing your rights does not always make it easier for you to invoke them. Many individuals feel intimidated and nervous when questioned by police, making it difficult to assert their right to refuse to answer questions and ask for a lawyer.

In the United States, every Criminal Defendant and potential criminal defendant, has the right to remain silent. The right to remain silent is conferred upon individuals in the United States under the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In other words, you do not have to speak to the police if you are questioned.

Under both Federal and Pennsylvania law, police are allowed to conduct what is called an “investigatory stop” which allows police to ask you your name, where you are going, and briefly detain you, but not place you in custody.

The legal difference between detaining you and custody is a subject for another article, but the basic difference is that if a person is briefly stopped by police, a reasonable person must believe that they are free to go. Custody is when a reasonable person doesn’t believe they are free to go.

The right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment attaches when you are in custody. Police are required to read you what is called “Miranda Rights,” and tell you that you have the right to remain silent.

If you find yourself in custody, then you must invoke the right to remain silent. You can invoke your right to remain silent by telling police that you do not want to speak to them without an attorney present. Once you inform them that you do not wish to speak to them, they must stop asking you questions.

Be careful, however, because you could still admit to something after you invoke that right if you volunteer information during casual conversation with a police officer.