If you are an adult, you can probably recite the Miranda warning from memory. After all, this warning, which includes your right to remain silent, is common dialogue on television police shows. Still, if you think officers may question you about a crime, it is important to know when your right to remain silent starts.
Essentially, you always have the right not to speak to anyone, including police officers. This right comes from the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects you from self-incrimination. Nevertheless, officers usually only must advise you of your right to remain silent before they conduct a custodial interrogation.
What is a custodial interrogation?
A custodial interrogation happens when police officers question you when you are not free to leave. Because officers can be intimidating, it can be difficult to know whether you are in custody. If you are in handcuffs or sitting in a police car, you probably are.
The simplest way to know whether you are in custody, though, is to ask. Officers must answer your question honestly. If they say you are free to go, they probably do not have to remind you of your right to remain silent.
How can you invoke your right to remain silent?
Prosecutors may use anything you tell officers against you to secure a conviction. This includes statements made both in and outside of a custodial interrogation. Consequently, it may be advisable to say nothing at all.
Still, you do not want to leave any ambiguity about your intention to stay quiet. Expressly telling officers you are invoking your right to remain silent removes all doubt. After doing so, though, you must stop talking, as officers may still use any voluntary statements you make against you.
Ultimately, because there is nothing wrong with forcing officers to make a case against you without your help, it is often advantageous to exercise your right to remain silent.