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Understanding the right to remain silent

The criminal law system exists to punish those who are deemed guilty of having committed specified criminal offenses. Yet, the law also seeks to balance the interest in public safety with the protection of governmental overreach. Therefore, laws related to searches and seizures, suspect interviews and even the rules of evidence seek to ensure fairness. When a criminal defendant's rights are violated, he or she may be in a difficult position facing severe penalties that may include prison, fines and damage to his or her reputation. Therefore, it is critical that individuals know their rights and how best to protect them.

One of the rights afforded to individuals is the right to remain silent. This right must be read to a suspect as part of the Miranda rights. Additionally, these rights specify that a suspect has the right to have an attorney present during any interrogation by the police. While these rights can go a long way toward protecting an individual, they are only enacted if invoked by a suspect. This means that those who indicate that they understand their rights but continue to talk may have any evidence gathered from that interview used against them in during a criminal trial.

It is worth noting that an interview with an individual can only continue once he or she has waived the right to be silent or the right to be interviewed with an attorney present. The waiver does not have to be explicit, however, meaning that certain acts, like continuing to talk after being read one's right to remain silent, may be properly interpreted as a waiver of that right.

Acting on one's rights can be a strong starting point in a criminal defense. After all, prosecutors are experts at twisting one's words against him or herself, and detectives know how to ask questions that can put an accused individual in a bind. Therefore, it is almost always best to have an attorney present when contacted by the police, as their expertise can help ensure that a suspect's answers are not self-incriminating and subsequently used against him or her.

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Rob McGuire Law
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