Monday, July 18, 2011

The Right to Remain Silent

We have all heard the words over and over on television programs. "You have the right to remain silent. If you give up 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 have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you at no charge." These words have been so stirred into our popular lexicon that there meaning has evaporated. For the most part, we are more worried about having our rights read than what our rights really really mean. In reality, the Miranda rights are seldom read at the time of an arrest and are only required to be read when the police are going to question a suspect.

The right to remain silent, or the right against self incrimination, is one of our most important constitutional safeguards. It is guaranteed to us both by the Fifth Amendment as well as the Constitution of the State of Georgia. The right against self incrimination frees us as Americans from hours of harassing, arduous and even tortuous interrogation by the agents of our government. However, this right is most important in its subtleties. It is easy to remember to, "take the fifth" when a uniformed police officer is screaming in your face. It is another thing to keep that same right in perspective when a detective is just trying to get you "tell your side of the story" in order to "clear up the details of the case".

Most people fall into the trap and decide to speak with law enforcement. It is human nature. Most of us are raised to respect authority and law enforcement is indeed authority. Further, most of us feel that if we can only explain the details of the situation, we can "square this situation away". However that is rarely the case. Law enforcement officers are trained to investigate in a very methodical manner. By the time they are calling people in questioning or interviews, they have developed a picture in their mind as what happened and the interrogation is designed to obtain facts that support the theory law enforcement has already developed. If anything, the police are striving to get a confession to bolster an already weak case.

If you are contacted by law enforcement and they want you to come and answer questions, the best thing to do is to contact a lawyer. If you cannot afford to have a lawyer come with you, then decline to speak with the police at all. You still may be arrested for the charges, but chances are, you would have been arrested had you spoken with the police. The difference is your chances of beating the case are much better.

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