The Importance of a Criminal Defendant’s Right to Remain Silent

As an attorney whose caseload includes a good deal of criminal defense work, there is one recurring them that stands out: clients who spoke to the police when it would have been in their best interest to remain silent.

When a person speaks to the police, without their attorney present, that person may unintentionally make a statement that incriminates themselves. Even a completely innocent person may, under the stress of police interrogation, say something that the police and prosecutors can use against them in court. Indeed, I have seen many cases where no charges would have been brought against a client had they simply remained silent when questioned by the police.

For that reason, I advise my clients to refrain from answering any questions until and unless I am present. I warn them that that the job of a police officer is to detect crime and assist in prosecutions, rather than to help a defendant avoid criminal liability. Few (if any) cases are won through speaking with the police, while many cases are lost due to the statements that a client makes to a police officer. This is equally true for those clients who are factually innocent or guilty of the crime in question. As such, remaining silent is not an admission of any wrongdoing, but rather a prudent decision.

I’ll conclude by quoting an example Miranda warning, which police are required to give to suspects in custody before interrogation, and which those facing possible criminal charges should keep in mind:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?.”

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