What is my Right to Remain Silent?

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides citizens with the right to remain silent. When you are a defendant in a criminal case the law allows that you cannot be forced to speak about the matter. This right states that a defendant can’t be “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”.  This right covers only criminal or potential criminal acts. The right to remain silent is effective immediately upon arrest. The police will read you this right, commonly referred to as the “Miranda warning”. Remember that anything you say may be used against you in a court proceeding. However, the fact that you remained silent should not be taken as guilt. If you have been arrested it is best not to say anything until you have an attorney present. While some things you say may seem very innocent to you, they could have a negative impact on the defense of your case later on in the case.

Miranda Warnings

The Miranda warning is a reminder of the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Police are required to read defendants their Miranda warning before they can question them after an arrest. The Miranda warning is commonly provided at the time of arrest. Law enforcement will read some form of warning including these statements:

  • You have the right to remain silent
  • Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law
  • You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have a lawyer present during questioning.
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to you.
  • If you opt to speak you can stop answering questions at any time.


Police questioning cannot take place unless these rights have been read. If your rights were not read, however, it doesn’t mean your case will automatically be thrown out. Instead, the court will determine any information gained after the defendant’s rights should have been read inadmissible in court. In other words, only such statements that were made during improper interrogation will be left out of the case. In most cases, there is other evidence that will be used in the case – enough to prosecute.

I Am Innocent – Should I Make a Statement?

Even those who are innocent can run into problems when speaking with police.  If you have not committed a crime you should be able to say so – but only after speaking with an attorney. Your lawyer will be able to review the situation and assist you in determining the best way to go about answering questions or making a statement. If you have been arrested it is best to immediately invoke your Miranda rights, even if they weren’t provided to you. It is important to remain polite ­– simply state that you would like to speak to an attorney. You may also state that you refuse to speak to them or that you invoke your Miranda rights. If the police continue to question you after you make such a statement they are in violation of the law.

Waiving Miranda Rights

At any time after your arrest you may decide to waive your Miranda rights. This means that you can decide to speak at any time if you like.  When you waive your rights you simply need to speak to police. Sometimes the police will ask you to sign a waiver that acknowledges that you understand your rights and have chosen to waive them. Statements made voluntarily can be admissible as evidence in court. Many people feel that they can talk their way out of the charges and therefore decide to speak to police. However, talking to police, even if you feel you are innocent, can be a mistake. It is almost always best to talk to an attorney before waiving your rights. You’ll also want to have your lawyer present when you answer questions so that you are assured of the best possible defense.