You probably know the script by heart just from watching cop shows on TV. “You have 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 an attorney. If you cannot afford and attorney, one will be appointed to you.”
This warning, required by the US Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona, is widely known but not well understood.
In a recent conversation, criminal defense attorney Pat Arata broke the Miranda warning down into four points:
- You have 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 an attorney.
- If you cannot afford and attorney, one will be appointed to you.
Pat then asked me, “Which one of the four is the MOST IMPORTANT?”
Sensing a trap, I thought a bit before answering. I finally landed on the right to remain silent. WRONG!
As Pat Arata points out, the MOST IMPORTANT point in the Miranda warning is #2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
Clients are always worrying about not cooperating with law enforcement. The combination of cop shows on TV and the self-serving statements of law enforcement officers during interviews have created an illusion that not telling the police what they want to know will somehow make things worse. The fact of the matter is that saying anything to the police is far more likely to make things worse for you than remaining silent.
So, is it always a good idea to stonewall the police? Not at all, but that is where the rest of the Miranda warning comes in. Your right to an attorney ensures that you understand all the factors involved in cooperating with the police BEFORE you start sharing information. Your attorney can help you evaluate the costs and the benefits of cooperation while you are still exercising your right to remain silent. You should only break your silence AFTER you have determined with your attorney that cooperating with law enforcement includes more benefit than danger.
I have accompanied clients to police interviews when no charges were pending and no arrests imminent. When you bring your attorney to these interviews, not only will the police be extra careful to treat you properly, but your attorney will have additional information (both verbal and non-verbal) from the interview that will help guide you through the rest of the case.
So remember… 1) Remain silent. 2) Talk to an attorney. They aren’t lying when they tell you that anything you say can and will be used against you.
To learn more about protecting your rights during a criminal investigation or a criminal law case, contact us at Hanson Legal Solutions.