Criminal Law: Right to Remain Silent

Law enforcement officers provide a beneficial service to our community. I appreciate their service, especially when it involves responding to a call that I have placed requesting assistance. However, I am writing today from a different perspective; I am writing as a lawyer practicing criminal law in an effort to educate you about an individual’s right to remain silent when confronted by a law enforcement officer.

You do not have to speak with an officer. Does that surprise you? A person who is the subject or target of a criminal investigation has certain rights, beginning with the right to remain silent. In this scenario, a person has not been arrested. The officer is simply trying to gather more information. But the officer is also trying to obtain information as part of building their “reasonable suspicion” to make an arrest. Again, a person does not have to speak with an officer. Yes, the officer will likely be mad that you are not talking. Law enforcement personnel are trained in questioning and interrogating people. Law enforcement personnel make lots of arrests because people answer the questions asked by an officer. Choosing not to answer questions means that the officer has to spend more time doing his or her job of investigating the situation. It means more work for the officer. Consequently, the officer is not going to be happy.

Law enforcement officers arrest many individuals because people admit to wrongdoing. Admitting to wrongdoing simply makes the officer’s job easier. People claim they admit their wrongdoing to officers because they want to be honest. That’s one approach to take – and an approach that may result in a jail or prison sentence. Refusing to speak with an officer doesn’t mean a person is dishonest. A person is simply exercising his or right to remain silent. A person may want to remain silent until they have had an opportunity to speak with a criminal lawyer to learn more about his or her rights. Law enforcement have a job to do, but let them do their jobs. Law enforcement can conduct an investigation without a person making an incriminating statement.

Please keep in mind that when an officer is conducting a criminal investigation, the job of the officer is not to protect the interests of the person who is the target of the investigation. The officer is only required to advise a person of his or her right to remain silent after the person is in custody, meaning arrested and/or detained, and the person is be interrogated or questioned.

The admission of wrongdoing can be used against a person in court. The admission of wrongdoing can be used against the person in a criminal prosecution. Law enforcement officers are busy individuals. Many times, an officer doesn’t have time, or doesn’t have the resources to conduct a very good investigation. Many times, people would not be charged with crimes if they had only exercised their right to remain silent. You have the right to remain silent – use it!

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Scott Hamblin is a lawyer and shareholder in the law firm of Brydon, Swearengen & England P.C. Scott regularly practices in the area of criminal law and family law. For more information regarding your rights, please contact Scott at www.scotthamblinlaw.com, or you mail email Scott at scotthamblin@brydonlaw.com.