Aplin & Ringsmuth

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Your Right to Remain Silent

Everyone has heard that they have a “right to remain silent,” but in many, many cases people who come into contact with law enforcement under circumstances where they know (or suspect) they are being investigated for some type of wrong-doing, these same folks end up making statements to law enforcement officers anyway. And these same statements are then used against them later in criminal court.

There are many reasons that people do this. They might think they can get in trouble if they don’t say anything. They might think they aren’t free to leave unless they make a statement. But this is not the case.

Everyone has a right to remain silent—which is also called a “right against self-incrimination.” This right applies anytime citizens are approached by law enforcement and asked to answer questions or provide an explanation. This is the scenario that the Founding Fathers of our Country had in mind when they wrote the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, which states in part:

“No person shall be…compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself…”

Everyone should be courteous and respectful to law enforcement officers whenever their paths cross. Police officers have very difficult jobs and they provide their communities with a tremendous service. But being courteous and respectful does not have to include making statements and responding to questions that will, in most cases, end up being used as evidence of guilt in criminal court.

Americans have the right to say out loud to law enforcement, but respectfully, that they are choosing to use their right to remain silent and not answer any questions at this time. This does not mean that people have the right to make false statements to law enforcementas this constitutes a crime in and of itself—called obstruction of justice. It simply means that Americans have the right to say nothing at all.