Know Your Rights:
Most people living in our country are familiar with Miranda warnings, as they are called, in that they are frequently recited on television police shows. The warnings stem from a well known United States Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. From that seminal case, and those that grew out of it, came the requirement that once an individual is taken into custody and is therefore "under arrest" they must be advised by the arresting officer of certain rights that they have. Among these rights is the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney appointed to represent the individual if the person is unable to afford an attorney on his or her own.
The right to remain silent is an important right with which each of us is protected as we go about our daily business in society. For example, an officer approaching an individual in the street is not allowed to detain a person for questioning without having a sound legal basis. Actually, the analysis is far more complicated then this, however, suffice it to be said that if a police officer is to question an individual on the street, or after a traffic stop, or in some other setting, the person being questioned is not required to answer those questions, essentially "remaining silent".
Most importantly, one's right to remain silent is not dependent upon being advised of that right by a police officer. Often times police officers are seeking information and hoping that an individual will give up their right to remain silent. Instead of reminding the person of their right to invoke silence, the investigating officer will usually just go right into the questions that he seeks to have answers for. This is most likely to occur in a "non-custodial" setting, where for instance an individual is approached on the street or after a traffic stop.
A good response by an individual who chooses to stand upon their right to remain silent would be to advise the officer that "I choose to remain silent".
The down side of remaining silent often takes the form of additional detention at the beginning of a case, for instance where a police officer chooses to hold someone overnight for an appearance before a judge in the morning instead of simply issuing an appearance ticket and letting the person go on the spot. It may, however, be in the best interest of the individual to remain silent, even if this does involve initially a short period of jail time before being offered a chance at freedom.
The reason for this is that if the individual is or could be connected to criminal behavior, by discussing the case with police, various forms of information can be gathered and used against that person. If convicted, the individual will serve a significantly greater period of time in jail then simply waiting overnight to see a judge. Often, people will give information so that they will be released promptly, but this approach can be fraught with danger for reasons which should be obvious.
In our next issue: Your right to an attorney