The U.S. Constitution confers a number of protections to American citizens. One of these is protection from self-incrimination during any custodial interrogation or criminal trial. If you are a suspect in a criminal matter, it helps to understand your rights as guaranteed by law.
First, you have a right to remain silent and avoid incriminating yourself both during the investigation and/or the trial. This right is enshrined in the 5th Amendment. And second, you have a right to legal counsel during your interactions with the authorities.
It’s important to understand, however, that you effectively revoke your right to remain silent when you decide to speak and volunteer information to the authorities.
Understanding what it means to remain silent
Basically, two elements must be satisfied for your 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination to take effect:
- You must be in police custody
- You must be actually in an interrogation
This means that anything you say prior to your arrest, such as statements made at a traffic stop before you realize that you’re in legal danger, can be freely used against you. So can anything you volunteer to the police without being asked.
Whereas most people have an idea regarding their right to remain silent, a good number of folks still end up talking to the police anyway. Of course, the impulse to want to defend yourself when you are in trouble is understandable. In the heat of the moment, you might find yourself explaining your side of the story – but that’s a terrible idea. It’s far wiser to get experienced legal guidance as soon as you realize that you’re in trouble.