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You have to speak up to let police know you want to stay silent

You have the right to remain silent. It's the first part of the Miranda Warning and heard in nearly every television show or movie in which someone is under arrest. Some would say it's the most important right you have if police accuse you of a crime, and they may be right.

However, not many people really understand what it means to invoke this right. If you believe that, by simply not talking, you have let police know that you intend to remain silent, this may be a mistake. The law requires you to speak up in order to take advantage of this right.

Don't accidentally give up your right to remain silent

The first thing you may need to know is that you do not have to wait for police to arrest you and read you the Miranda Warning in order to exercise your right to remain silent. In fact, other than providing basic information, such as your name and address, you should probably avoid answering any questions put to you that could incriminate you as soon as you come into contact with police.

If you fail to say anything and then answer even one question later, you may have waived your right. Having said that, in order to invoke your right to remain silent, you need to make it clear to police. They could construe any ambiguous words incorrectly. For instance, you should probably avoid making statements such as the following:

  • Maybe I shouldn't answer any questions.
  • Shouldn't I have a lawyer present?
  • I don't think I want to answer your questions.

Police could argue that they reasonably believed you wanted to talk to them based on these statements and questions.

What you should say to invoke your right to remain silent

So, what do you need to say so police know you want to exercise this right? Consider the following examples:

  • I want to remain silent.
  • I am invoking my right to remain silent.
  • I want to speak to an attorney first.
  • I only want to speak with an attorney.

Keep in mind that these are not magic words. You do not have to say these exact phrases. The point is that you make an affirmative declaration that police cannot misconstrue. Once you exercise your right, police must stop questioning you. Exercising this right extends to all police as well. They cannot send in a different officer or investigator to start questioning you again.

Considering what may be at stake, properly exercising your right to remain silent is essential. You do not need to give police and/or prosecutors any evidence to use against you.

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