The Right to Remain Silent

When someone is arrested, law enforcement is supposed to inform that individual of his or her “right to remain silent.” This is, perhaps, common knowledge learned from watching popular TV shows. However, most individuals rarely take the time to consider what this “right” actually provides to them. What does it really mean? When does it apply? Are there any exceptions? Sadly, many Americans do not know the answers to these questions, or they have misconceptions that lead to accidental incrimination. The following information can help you better understand your Fifth Amendment rights, and know when you should exercise it to its fullest extent.

Why We Have the Fifth Amendment

Like all rights granted by the Constitution, the rights arising under the Fifth Amendment are meant to protect citizens from government abuse and corruption. This does not necessarily mean that our government is, in fact, corrupt. It simply means that, if you face a corrupt officer, judge, or other legal entity, your rights can help protect you from wrongful imprisonment.

Specifically, the Fifth Amendment is intended to protect you from having to testify against yourself. It posits that you are innocent until proven guilty and that you cannot be forced to tell law enforcement officers or courts otherwise. This does not mean that they will not try. Under the law, police officers are permitted to lie, negotiate, trick, and manipulate in order to ascertain the facts of a criminal case, and whether the suspected criminal is telling the truth. Your right to remain silent is the primary tool given to you under the Constitution to defend against such tactics. You would be well advised to exercise your right to remain silent and pair it with your right to legal counsel the moment you are taken into custody.

Limitations on Your Fifth Amendment Rights

For the most part, your right to remain silent can be used in any situation where you might incriminate yourself. However, like most laws, it is no unlimited.

If, for example, public safety is placed at an immediate risk because of a bomb you have allegedly planted and you tell them where it is before your Miranda rights are explained, your statement may still be considered admissible in court. Also, parents who have limited custody rights to a child and have knowledge of the child’s whereabouts are not usually protected. In those cases, parents generally are not permitted to refuse to disclose the child’s whereabouts either.

Even if you believe that these limitations apply to your situation, you would still be well advised to demand an attorney as soon as you are questioned or taken into custody. This can ensure that all of your rights are fully protected and that you exercise each and every right to its fullest extent under the law.

This article is authored through the collaborative efforts of Eric R. Pangburn, Travis James West and other legal professionals at West & Dunn, a law firm dedicated to providing high quality legal services to individuals and businesses, with a particular focus on assisting veterans of the United States Armed Forces. If you have questions or would like assistance with a legal matter, the attorneys at West & Dunn can be reached at 608-535-6420.