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Your Right to Remain Silent: A Brief Overview

Posted by Posted on in Federal Crimes

chicago federal criminal defense lawyerIn the United States, every person who is charged with a crime—including a federal crime—has the right to remain silent. This right is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects individuals from self-incrimination. "Self-incrimination" means saying something that could be used as evidence against you in a criminal trial.

The right to remain silent is a fundamental constitutional right that has been recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States for over 150 years. It is important to understand that the right to remain silent is not absolute; there are circumstances where an individual may be required to provide information to law enforcement. However, if you are ever questioned by law enforcement, you should always exercise your right to remain silent and speak to an attorney before answering any questions.

The Fifth Amendment and the Right to Remain Silent

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "No person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This protection against self-incrimination is commonly known as the "right to remain silent."  It is a fundamental constitutional principle that has been reiterated by the Supreme Court of the United States on numerous occasions.

The Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination can be invoked in any setting where an individual reasonably believes that his or her statements could incriminate him or her in a criminal proceeding.  The right applies even if an individual has already been convicted of a crime and is facing sentencing. An individual can only waive his or her Fifth Amendment rights if he or she does so knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.

An important element of the right to remain silent is that no inferences are allowed to be made based on your decision to stay silent. Your silence cannot be presented as evidence of your guilt.

The History of the Right to Remain Silent

The concept of the right to remain silent dates back hundreds of years. It was first codified in England's Bill of Rights 1689, which stated that “the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” English courts subsequently interpreted this language as affording criminal defendants the right to remain silent when questioned by law enforcement.

Regardless of whether an individual is innocent or guilty, he or she still has the right not to say anything that could incriminate him or her in a criminal trial.  This protection against self-incrimination was eventually codified in the Fifth Amendment in 1791.

Since then, this protection has been extended beyond formal criminal proceedings to encompass any situation where an individual reasonably believes that his or her statements could incriminate him or her in a criminal proceeding.  For example, the privilege against self-incrimination applies when an individual is questioned by law enforcement during a police interrogation, when he or she is testifying before a grand jury, and when he or she is giving information to a prosecutor during plea bargaining negotiations.

Remain Silent and Contact a Chicago Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

The right to remain silent is a fundamental principle that has been recognized by courts in the United States for over 150 years. If you are ever questioned by the police, it is a good idea to exercise your right to remain silent and speak with an experienced Cook County criminal defense attorney from Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney before answering any questions. Call 312-629-0669 for a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://billofrightsinstitute.org/essays/due-process-of-law

https://law.yale.edu/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/Faculty/Langbein_Privilege_Against_Self_Incrimination.pdf

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