American criminal laws state that anyone stopped and questioned by police has the right to maintain silence as a way to avoid incriminating themselves. But there are certain instances where you should speak to make your actions and intentions clear, and there are instances where silence is always preferable. To better understand which option is best in which situations, below are some important things to know about the right to remain silent.
When to Speak
If police pull you over and ask to search your vehicle, politely refuse. They need either probable cause or a judge's warrant to perform a search. Barring these options, they need consent, so refusing the search is a way for you to maintain your fourth amendment rights against unwarranted search and seizure. If they have probable cause, they can go ahead and search anyway, but as long as you state your refusal, they will need to justify their reasons for the search—both in the report they file and in any criminal law case that might develop from the incident.
Also, as soon as the officer starts asking questions, inform them you are invoking your right to silence. Outside of basic identifying information, such as your name and providing an ID, you are not legally obligated to say anything more.
When to Remain Silent
An officer who suspects you of a crime may try to get you to speak. Silence might only frustrate them and stoke their suspicions. So, remain calm at all times, and say nothing more after stating your wish to remain silent. If an officer continues asking questions, you can ask them if you are being charged with a crime and, if not, if you are free to leave. If they say you are free to leave, calmly and quietly do so. If an officer becomes aggressive, comply with them while maintaining silence as much as possible. Record the incident on your smartphone, make a note of the officer's badge number, and file a complaint later; a criminal law attorney can guide you through this process.
Whether or not you invoke your right to silence, an attorney can safeguard you throughout the legal system. Fulcher Law Firm has over 20 years' experience serving clients throughout Stanly, Anson and Montgomery Counties in North Carolina. They handle criminal law cases ranging from traffic violations to felonies, as well as divorces, legal separations, and child custody matters. Call (704) 984-6060 or visit them online to schedule a consultation.