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Remaining silent after an arrest: Why to wait for an attorney

You may have heard that you should not talk to the authorities without an attorney present if a law enforcement officer takes you into custody. It may be tempting to want to tell your side of the story anyway in an attempt to get out of trouble. This could easily backfire, though, and it often does.

Although an officer may not tell you that you have the right to remain silent, you do, and you should. Here is why.

You could incriminate yourself

Sometimes, a prosecutor may use eyewitness testimony to indicate that you have broken the law. If you answer questions or talk about your case willingly, you may be providing your own testimony that the prosecutor could use against you. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that no one can force you to be a witness against yourself.

It is your right

Officers know that the Fifth Amendment says you do not legally have to answer their questions, and they may inform you that you have the right to remain silent. However, your right to refuse to answer probably will not keep them from asking. In fact, law enforcement may even try to trick you into answering questions. What puts a stop to this behavior is your statement that you want to speak to an attorney.

If they do continue to question you, you can repeat your decision to remain silent rather than answering, and they cannot penalize you for it.

An attorney understands the legal system

A criminal defense attorney can listen to your side of the story and determine which facts are relevant to your case and which you should not mention. Your lawyer also recognizes when telling your side of the story may help you negotiate for a plea bargain. This could result in a reduced sentence or a lesser charge.

It may be that the officer who arrested you did not follow proper procedure or did not have probable cause. An attorney knows how to identify such a lapse and demonstrate that law enforcement violated your rights, which could result in dropped charges. 

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