Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) made a landmark ruling in the case Miranda vs. Arizona. You have no doubt heard the words they mandated in that ruling over and over again: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.
Those words must be read to you if you have been arrested. In fact, they are one of the first ways you can be sure that you are under arrest. If you are under arrest, you lack the freedom to leave the station, the squad car, or even the hotel room where you might have been arrested.
If they don’t read me my rights, they can’t use my statement?
But there is a little known fact worth noting: If you have not been read your rights, it means you are not under arrest; it does not, however, mean that you are not under suspicion. And if the cops thinks you might have been involved in a crime, they are going to do their best to have a chat with you.
Unfortunately, many people think you can say anything to a cop, regardless of the circumstances, and that it can never be used against you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anytime a cop has even a passing conversation with you, you can be certain that he is taking notes.
A non-custodial interview?
When an officer comes to your home, or office, or stops you in your car, and has a talk with you, it is considered a “non-custodial” interview. Many a person has been convicted based on information provided during such a conversation.
How can that happen? The courts have ruled that as long as you are free to leave–that means shut your front door, hang up the phone or drive away in your car–but you instead choose to talk to a cop, you are voluntarily waiving your rights.
And in case you are wondering, if you respond to an officer’s request to talk and you are physically in the police station, as long as you are not under arrest, the courts deem you free to leave. And you can bet your statements will be used against you–and your conviction will be upheld.
So what can I do?
Politely, but firmly, refuse to talk. It is up to you–and you alone–to protect your constitutional rights. Tell the officer that you choose not to talk based on the advice of your attorney. Afraid the cop will turn around and tell a jury your attorney said not to talk? Not to worry, an officer cannot repeat that in the courtroom.
And with a little foresight and the determination not to converse with an officer, there is a very good chance you will never end up in a courtroom.
Whether you are charged with a crime on the federal or state level, it’s important to remember, if you talk to an investigator or police officer, you are risking your case. Don’t do it. Remember: Silence is golden.