The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution affords you the right to remain silent during police questioning. Furthermore, thanks to a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision, officers have an affirmative obligation to notify you of this right when making a custodial arrest.
Because prosecutors may use any statement you make against you, staying silent may be a good way to protect your legal interests. Invoking your right to remain silent, though, is not always easy. After all, not only do officers know how to encourage suspects to talk, but they can also be intimidating.
Staying silent during police questioning
If you want to invoke your right to remain silent, simply staying silent may not work. If you go this route, officers may continue to question you until you say something incriminating. Instead, you likely want to express your intentions in a clear and unambiguous way.
Using precise language is often an effective strategy. Therefore, rather than being coy, you probably want to say, “I am asserting my right to remain silent.” This statement leaves little doubt you are exercising your legal rights.
Asking for an attorney
While your right to remain silent is incredibly important, the U.S. Constitution affords you another protection: the right to have an attorney present during a police interrogation. Asking for an attorney has the same effect as asserting your right to remain silent. That is, once you request legal counsel, officers should stop questioning you until a lawyer arrives.
Protecting your legal interests
Whether you invoke your right to remain silent or your right to legal counsel, officers should respect your actions. Continuing with an interrogation after you have asserted either right has serious consequences for law enforcement and prosecutors. Specifically, prosecutors usually may not use anything you say after invoking these rights against you.
Clearly, one of the more effective ways to protect your legal interests is to state your right to remain silent. If you expect officers may question you about a criminal matter, thinking in advance about how to exercise your legal rights is a good idea.