The 5th Amendment of the Bill of Rights protects us with many rights.
One of the most commonly used is the right to remain silent
It applies not just in the court room, but also to any situation where your individual freedom of action is curtailed, such as during an interrogation by police.
Most of us have seen examples of this. Perhaps a defendant in a criminal case refuses to take the stand at trail. Or a suspect in police custody doesn’t want to answer questions without a lawyer being there. These types of events are often dramatized, but they are really quite common.
In criminal cases, a defendant usually doesn’t testify. The defendant would have to tell the truth on the stand about what happened, perhaps giving evidence against himself. Or a defendant may avoid the stand so testimony cannot be misconstrued as something different than what was meant. Before a criminal trial, the defendant’s attorney may help him to understand risks – or the benefits – of taking the stand.
But the right to remain silent is more comprehensive than many people realize. What if police ask you questions about someone else who is suspected of committing a crime? Most people think they have to answer police questions. But that’s not the case.
It’s legal to decline any question asked by police, even if you have been subpoenaed as a witness in a criminal case. Furthermore, refusing to answer questions could be a wise decision, especially if your answers could be interpreted in more than one way.
If you’re not sure whether or not to answer questions from police, you should politely decline and then consult an attorney. This is much better than making a potentially incriminating admission.
However, if you do answer questions, you must always be truthful. If you are in doubt about whether or not to exercise your right to remain silent, you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
The right to remain silent is a cherished part of our legal system. It is there to protect you. Don’t be hesitant to use it.