Ask any attorney and they will tell you that if you are questioned by the police about a crime, say nothing and contact a lawyer. Most Americans have heard about the Fifth Amendment, or the “right to remain silent,” but think it’s only invoked by criminals or people with something to hide. After all, if someone is innocent, why should they not tell the truth?
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Regarding the phrase “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”, the Supreme Court has held that “a witness may have a reasonable fear of prosecution and yet be innocent of any wrongdoing. The privilege serves to protect the innocent who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.” Ohio v. Reiner, 532 U.S. 17 (2001). That’s right, the privilege serves to protect the innocent, not just the guilty.
Whenever the police question you they have the right to use anything you say against you in prosecuting the case. Therefore, even if you are innocent and you believe you are telling them something that could support your innocence they can take that information and use it in a different way than you expected them to use it. They may hear what you say in a different context or understand it to mean something that you did not intend and use it to prove your guilt. That is why the law requires that people are warned that they have the right to remain silent and that anything they say to the police can and will be used against them in court. Miranda v. Arizona (1966) was the landmark case involving confessions. Ernesto Miranda had signed a statement confessing the crime, but the Supreme Court held that the confession was inadmissible because the defendant had not been advised of his rights. The reading of those rights to a suspect is now known as the “Miranda warnings”.
It is important to remember that it is not the job of the police to protect your constitutional rights or to make certain that you are fairly charged. Police officers are paid to investigate crimes, gather evidence and prove that someone committed that crime. Therefore, even though it seems counterintuitive or uncooperative, it is never a good idea to give a statement to the police without first consulting an attorney. Many an innocent person has been wrongly convicted based on their own statements. Remember, remaining silent when questioned is a constitutional right enacted to protect innocent people from wrongful prosecution.
If you need a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney or a lawyer to defend your Constitutional rights, contact the Pennsylvania criminal defense and constitutional lawyers at Trinity Law at www.YourLawFirmFirmLife.com.