Understanding Your Right to Remain Silent In Michigan

Cropped view of a young man being handcuffed. Concept for Understanding Your Right to Remain Silent.

As a criminal defense lawyer, perhaps the best piece of advice I can give a prospective client is: don’t talk to the police. If you ever find yourself being questioned by law enforcement officers, you should politely but firmly tell them that you are exercising your right to remain silent and want to speak to a lawyer.

What Is the Right to Remain Silent?

The right to remain silent is a cornerstone of the American legal system. It is part of the “Due Process” clause of the Constitution and means you do not need to speak if the police question you. Yet this fundamental right is one that people regularly waive, often to their detriment.

Most people have a general understanding of the right to remain silent. It often comes from watching movies and TV shows. But have you ever wondered what it means when the police say, “You have the right to remain silent”? When does your right to remain silent apply? And how do you assert it?

The right to remain silent is one of your Fifth Amendment rights established by the United States Constitution. It applies anytime a person is suspected of having committed a crime and is being questioned by police or other law enforcement agents. It means you do not have to answer their questions. But police officers are not required to tell you about your Fifth Amendment rights until they place you under arrest.

What To Do If You Are Questioned by the Police

Police officers are trained to get people to admit things. They use basic questions to establish specific facts about a crime. Your answers can place you at the scene of a crime and help them understand the basic details and the sequence of events. They also use questions to evaluate your credibility or even catch you in a lie.

One tactic police officers use is asking the same question multiple times in slightly different ways or phrasing the question so that a yes or no answer could be interpreted in different ways. For example, a police officer might ask, “Do you mind if I look in your trunk?” A simple yes could mean, “Yes, I do mind,” or it could mean, “Yes, it’s ok.” If your answer is ambiguous, the police officer, of course, will interpret it to mean you consented to the search.

When the police question you, you must tell them your name, age, and address. Then you should ask whether you are being detained.

If you are not being detained, you should leave. If you are being detained, explain that you are asserting your right to remain silent and ask to speak to a lawyer.

Importantly, you cannot assert your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent just by refusing to answer the police officer’s questions. Instead, you must affirmatively tell the officer you are asserting your Fifth Amendment rights and ask to speak to a lawyer.

What Happens If Police Violate My Fifth Amendment Rights?

A common misconception is that your case will be dismissed if the police violate your constitutional rights.

This is not true.

If police violate your rights, statements you made should be excluded from consideration at trial and cannot be used to try to convict you. This can make it easier for your lawyer to negotiate a favorable plea bargain or be used as leverage to have your case dismissed. But a violation of your constitutional rights does not necessarily mean your case will be dismissed.

Instead, by asserting your Fifth Amendment rights, you limit the evidence the police can gather that could be used to implicate you in a crime.

Remember—criminal cases are built on evidence. By limiting the evidence police can collect about you and what you were doing, you make it harder for prosecutors to convict you of a crime.

Should You Ever Speak to the Police?

Of course, there are times when you will need to speak to a police officer. Practically speaking, if a police officer approaches you on the street and you’ve done nothing wrong, it will only raise suspicion if you immediately ask to speak to a lawyer. But if there is any chance you could have been involved in something illegal, it is better to consult with a lawyer before you talk to a police officer.

If you are contacted by the police or have been placed under arrest, talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer before answering any questions. An experienced criminal defense attorney can protect you by negotiating the terms of the interview, reviewing anything you might need to turn over to the police to make sure it doesn’t accidentally incriminate you, and making sure you understand the officer’s questions and don’t say anything that could expose you to criminal charges.

Elmen Legal: Protecting Your Rights

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a crime in Michigan, Elmen Legal can help. Michigan criminal defense attorney Robert Elmen will evaluate your situation, advise you of the potential consequences, and protect your rights.

Elmen Legal is based in Ann Arbor and proudly represents people throughout Michigan, including Saline, Pittsfield Township, Chelsea, and Ypsilanti, as well as Washtenaw, Wayne, Monroe, Lenawee, Hillsdale, Jackson, Ingham, Livingston, and Oakland Counties.

To learn more, call (734) 707-8915 or contact Elmen Legal today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.