If you’ve ever seen a TV show or movie where a character gets arrested, you have probably heard the Miranda warning — or at least part of it. The Miranda warning is a verbal acknowledgment of an arrested individual’s rights. Police officers must provide the Miranda warning prior to questioning or interrogating someone who is under arrest.
The Miranda warning advises those under arrest that they have the right to remain silent and the right to legal representation. What does your right to remain silent mean if you are accused of a criminal act?
Your right to remain silent means police can’t force you to speak
In the United States, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says that you cannot be forced to be a witness against yourself. That means you have no obligation to provide information to police that could be self-incriminating.
However, police officers often go to great lengths to get on the good side of someone they suspect of a crime. Law enforcement may promise reduced penalties for cooperating, even though the police really have no authority to do so. They may even try to deceive the suspected individual to get that person to speak.
The saying “good cop, bad cop,” for example, comes from the common practice of two or more officers working together to manipulate the emotions and behavior of a suspect. One officer behaves in a threatening or aggressive manner, while the other one is calm, understanding and even sympathetic. The person under arrest may say self-incriminating things to the “good cop” who they think is on their side.
No matter how an officer speaks to you or what they promise, their objective is to get you to implicate yourself during questioning. Your right to remain silent includes the right not to respond to provocation or to answer any questions, regardless of how long the questioning goes on.
General rule: Don’t talk to police until you have legal representation
If you believe you are under investigation or have already been arrested, exercising your right to remain silent may be the best thing you can do for your defense. Before answering any questions from police, you can request to speak with your lawyer. After all, your right to legal representation is stated in the Miranda warning.