We have all seen movies or TV shows in which the police are cuffing a suspect, and they say the famous line: “You have the right to remain silent.” If the police arrest you, you may know that you have the right to avoid answering the police’s questions, and that you have the right to an attorney. But did you know that there is a specific way in which you have to invoke those rights?
The right to remain silent
Many people assume that the right to remain silent simply means that you can stay quiet and don’t have to answer any questions while the police are interrogating you. Your constitutional right is more extensive than that. In a police interrogation, your right to remain silent means that, once you invoke it, the police must cease questioning you.
You must invoke your right to remain silent specifically. If you sit there quietly, ignoring the police’s questions, they can continue the interrogation for a long time. You have to tell the police specifically that you are invoking your right to remain silent. Once you say that, they must cease their interrogation for a reasonable amount of time.
The right to counsel
The Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the United States Constitution give everyone in the United States the right to have an attorney present while they are being questioned by the police. However, just like the right to remain silent, this right is not automatic.
If the police are questioning you, and you say something ambiguous or unspecific like: “Maybe I ought to talk to a lawyer,” or “I should probably have my lawyer here,” you haven’t invoked your constitutional right – and the police don’t have to stop questioning you.
You must make a clear, direct statement such as: “I am invoking my right to an attorney.” Once you do, the police must stop questioning you until your attorney arrives.
The Constitution exists to grant rights to everyone living within the United States. It’s important for everyone to know which rights they have – and how to invoke them – in case the police arrest and interrogate them.