21 Sep Don’t Take the Risk: Always Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent
The right to remain silent is an extremely important right—so much so that it should be an obligation.
When involved in unlawful circumstances, people often think that if they provide a brief explanation, law enforcement officials will be kind and release them. Don’t be fooled—talking your way out of problems does not work!
When pulled over by the police, or when talking to the police, everyone should exercise the right to remain silentin order to avoid saying the wrong thing inadvertently, and further complicate the issue at hand.
Understanding Miranda Rights
“Well, I wasn’t read my Miranda rights, therefore, we should get this case dismissed.”
I’ve heard this statement many times before and, unfortunately, this logic does not usually apply, despite what TV shows may depict.
Miranda rights only protect people from custodial interrogation (when police want to take a statement).
Custodial interrogation requires:
- Custody: the person is not free to leave; and
- Interrogation: the person is actually asked a question by the law enforcement agent.
The Admissibility of Evidence & Custodial Interrogation
Evidence is only admissible in court when it is obtained lawfully.
In the following example, the court determined that an incriminating statement made by a suspect was not admissible because the evidence was obtained by custodial interrogation, and the suspect was not provided with his Miranda rights.
Police arrived at the scene of a car accident and were unsure of the driver’s sobriety. The officers asked him to step out of his car. Instead, the man tried to drive away. To prevent this from happening, the police broke open the window, pulled him from the car, and placed him in handcuffs. The police claimed they used handcuffs in order to ensure the driver’s safety; however, the driver technically was not under arrest. The officers then asked the driver if he was drinking, to which he replied: “I did PCP.”
Clearly, a man in handcuffs is not free to leave; therefore, custody does, in fact, exist in such a scenario, just as it does in an interrogation. Based on this, the driver’s statement was not entered into evidence.
An hour later at the police precinct, the driver was read his Miranda rights and stated that he understood them. Following that, when asked if he did PCP, he affirmed that he did, in fact, smoke a PCP cigarette. As a result, this second admission came into evidence.
Understanding Custodial Interrogation
Miranda rights should only be expected if both custody and interrogation are present in a given situation.
The following examples illustrate how, when custody or interrogation exist in isolation, statements made can be used as evidence.
Interrogation, but No Custody
A police officer stops a man walking down the street and asks, “Is everything okay?” The man responds with, “No, I just beat up my girlfriend.” Not only can the officer arrest the man, but the statement can be used against him. Although there is interrogation, there is no custody.
Custody, but No Interrogation
A police officer pulls a man over and says, “Don’t leave, because if you do, you’re leaving the scene of an accident.” The man, distraught, says, “I’m having a really bad day. I just beat up my girlfriend.” Although custody exists in this scenario, the officer never asked a question (interrogation).
The most obvious example of this type of scenario is when a suspect is riding in a police car and voluntarily offers information. Despite the fact that the police officers aren’t talking, the suspect may say something like, “I feel so bad I hit my girlfriend. I shouldn’t have done that.” This spontaneous statement is admissible and can be used against the suspect.
The best and universally safe response in a precarious situation is to not say anything! Law enforcement officers make arrests and investigate later. Do not make it easy for them by providing statements!
If you have a question about custodial interrogation or whether you were entitled to your Miranda rights, you better call Saul at (212) 363-7701!