We grew up learning the police are our friends. Why? Because law enforcement officials are our friends. Police keep the community safe. They should be forever thanked and praised for their service and protection. I fully support law enforcement’s dedicated public servants. I wholeheartedly support and appreciate their humanitarian work. Why then, you might ask, does this blog’s content have a “me against them” type buzz? Well, because today’s message addresses special circumstances impacting individual citizens. This blog discusses situations where police interests in keeping the community safe – for whatever reason – directly conflict with your own personal liberty. How? By invading your life, against your will, and by placing your freedom at risk. Being confronted by police and accused of crime intimidates even the strongest-willed citizen. Badges, guns, and uniformed officers authoritatively telling you what to do is just not something we run across daily. Understanding your constitutional rights smooths the process.
Police are obligated to advise you of your “Miranda” rights before any questioning occurs. Miranda rights flow from the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We all know the familiar “Miranda” warning:
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law...”
What exactly does this mean? Stated very simply, you don’t have to say anything at all. You may stand silent. Standing silent cannot be held against you in any manner. However, the Miranda warning is called a “warning” for good reason. If you answer police questions -- even if you casually “explain what happened” -- if you voluntarily provide information to police of any kind (if you talk to the police) –
-- Then what happens next, by operation of the law --
-- Any information you provide can be used against you for the purpose of convicting you of a crime. Note the ominous and cautionary words:
*Any and all of the “information you provide” (by talking to the police) “can and will be used against you in a court of law.” The State’s best evidence for convicting you becomes what you said, even when you thought you were being an upstanding citizen by answering questions. Does that sound fair? No, it does not. When the Bill of Rights was authored, the Framers of the Constitution undoubtedly considered the fairness aspect of these type of interactions between citizens and government officials. Government officials can intimidate citizens. The Framers wanted a free country. The Framers wanted Citizens protected from governmental intimidation. Thus, the Fifth Amendment “right to remain silent” was guaranteed more than two hundred twenty years ago by our Founding Fathers. The rights instilled by the Fifth Amendment continue today. The Fifth Amendment serves to regulate and make fair interactions between private citizens and government officials. Always remember:
“In a pickle, take the nickel.” In other words, if trouble finds you, and you are being accused by police, always assert your Fifth Amendment rights.
When confronting citizens, police often vigorously encourage the person to provide information immediately, right then and there. They’ll say they desperately “need [your] help.” They’ll make you feel like you should promptly provide information for the good of the community or even for your own personal benefit. Law enforcement may be doing their job, but you are now placed at risk. I’ve seen plenty of situations where the police essentially tell someone: “We know you did it, you might as well tell us.” Continued questioning about what happened follows. Human nature of course tends toward “helping” the community. What’s more, human nature makes us feel like saying: “I didn’t do it” and “Here’s why I didn’t do it.” When confronted, you might feel pressured or obligated to speak words in your own defense. You might feel pressured to explain the situation to the police. You might feel pressured to show how it didn’t happen the way the police keep telling you it happened. You may even feel pressured into feeling you are required to explain your innocence. At times like these you ABSOLUTELY MUST exercise your right to remain silent. “In a pickle, take the nickel.”
*DO NOT ANSWER POLICE QUESTIONS CONCERNING YOU AND ALLEGED WRONGDOING. DO NOT TRY EXPLAINING “WHAT HAPPENED”
Whether it is right, wrong or indifferent, I’ve seen situations where the police suggest if the citizen answers a few questions the person “might not go to jail.” Friends, take my word for it, being taken to jail beats a felony conviction. The hypothetical scenario goes like this:
Police: “If you tell us what happened, we may be able to avoid taking you to jail.”
Who wouldn’t say almost anything to avoid being thrown in jail? Most people. Avoid this trap. There is no advantage to answering questions to avoid being arrested. It really doesn’t matter what happens, the police can arrest you and take you to jail regardless of who says what. So don’t say anything! It bears repeating, a trip downtown and a night in jail is a far better alternative than serious legal trouble. Don’t give up information the State will later “use against you” in court.
*DO NOT ANSWER POLICE QUESTIONS INVOLVING YOURSELF AND POSSIBLE CRIME. ALWAYS ASSERT YOUR “RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT”
Trust me on this. The police and District Attorney’s interpretation of your words will (very often) be vastly different than what you were intending to communicate by offering your “help.” People get convicted because they give up information which ultimately is presented by the DA in a light which makes the person appear guilty. It may seem horribly unfair, but citizens lose their liberty every day in this country because they volunteer information to law enforcement officials about their personal life and personal conduct. Standing silent is the best decision.
How do I exercise the right to remain silent -- without the appearance of me having done something wrong? Excellent question. Again, human nature tends toward “talking your way out of trouble” and “cooperating” with police. Never try talking your way out of trouble! Never say something you think might draw suspicion away from you. How do I say nothing and still remain polite? The moment police begin asking questions – whether the police have “read you your rights” or not – very respectfully tell the officer you are exercising your right to remain silent. Say nothing else in response to any question or comment. “In a pickle, take the nickel.”
By now the message should be abundantly clear. Always – always, always exercise your “right to remain silent” when police question you about matters involving you and possible wrongdoing. You have no obligation to tell law enforcement anything. In fact, you have a specific two hundred twenty plus year old constitutional right to not speak at all. Exercise it always!!!
Hopefully you never find yourself encountering police accusation. If you do though, remember your constitutional rights.
*No part of this article constitutes the formation of an attorney-client relationship. This is a public service message only.