When it comes to dealing with law enforcement, silence can be golden

We've all seen the cop shows on TV. Heck, we can practically recite the Miranda warning from memory: "You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. Anything you do say can and will be used against you in court."

So why don't we do a better job of actually heeding these important warnings?

Instead, too many suspects in police investigations willingly dig their own legal holes by attempting to talk their way out of trouble with police.

Have you received criminal charges after making a statement or admission to law enforcement? If so, it's not too late. Scaringi Law P.C. criminal defense attorney Nichole A. Collins can help you get your statements suppressed so they can't be used against you in court.

Voluntarily giving a police statement is handing away your rights

Although suppressing your statements is a possible legal remedy, it is not fool proof. The better option is to invoke your right to remain silent in the first place.

"The bottom line is never give voluntary statements to police without having an attorney present," Collins urges. "It is far easier if a suspect says nothing to law enforcement, than if he or she first gives a statement, then hires me to suppress the statement and fix the mistakes after-the-fact.''

Law enforcement can be very crafty when it comes to eliciting cooperation and statements from a suspect. Often, officers begin their questioning long before a person realizes he or she is a suspect in a criminal investigation. The officer or trooper is not required to read you your Miranda Rights until after you are in "custody.''

Indeed, by the time officers actually read you your rights, you've already said way too much. Better to stay silent, instead.

"They conduct the investigation before they file charges," Collins says of police. "So often times a suspect is contacted by police and asked to voluntarily come to the station to talk. Seasoned investigators depend on statements given by suspects who are trying to talk their way out of a jam. These statements can and will be used at trial if they are not suppressed.''

Indeed, law enforcement will even attempt to empathize and identify with suspects in order to place them at ease and get them talking - all without ever issuing a Miranda warning.

So how do you know when you are in police "custody?'' You do not have to be incarcerated or in handcuffs to be in "custody'' for purposes of Miranda.

There's no such thing as a 'casual visit' or 'little chat' with law enforcement

"I've have represented several clients that were contacted by police before they were represented by counsel,'' Collins recounts. "Law enforcement will say, 'just come in for a few questions.' Or they will show up at house, knock on door, and ask, 'do you have a couple minutes to talk?'"

It sounds casual enough, doesn't it? After all, no charges have been filed. No attorney is involved. This is merely the very beginning of an investigation, the officer says, "just to clear things up."

Don't take the bait.

"People get scared, and they start talking," Collins says. "They think they can talk their way out of trouble. Or they think they will get into more trouble if they don't talk."

Actually, it's the other way around.

"There is no duty to cooperate with law enforcement officials," Collins states. "The right to remain silent is the right against self-incrimination. Police officers, troopers, and detectives typically way to read Miranda rights until they absolutely have to. They use the time before they officially arrest a suspect to gather evidence and voluntary statements.

"But the right to silence is always applicable,'' Collins says. "You do not have to wait for your Miranda rights to be read to ask to have your attorney present.''

Invoking your constitutionally protected rights is highly advisable from a criminal defense perspective. So is declining any warrantless searches of your home, personal property or vehicle -- even when law enforcement threatens that they will, in fact, obtain a warrant.

A polite 'no' to police followed by a quick call to your attorney is a winning defense strategy

Collins' best advice to anyone who has a police officer show up on his or her doorstep, without a warrant, seeking to ask a few questions about a criminal matter is this: Simply ask whether you are in custody or free to leave. If you are not in custody, politely decline the interview, along with any request to enter or look around the premises or property. If you are being taken into custody, then inform law enforcement that you would like to speak with an attorney.

If you are placed in police custody, your Miranda rights must be read to you. Listen to them and exercise those rights, Collins urges.

Don't say or do anything - just call an attorney.

"When they say 'anything you say can and will be used against you,' they are not joking," Collins says of law enforcement. "They want you to talk so that they can gather information. This information can later be used against you.''

Remember, if and when you find yourself in trouble, silence is golden. And if remaining silent does not do the trick, ask for your attorney.


UPDATE MAY 2014: This article was featured on the abc27.com website. Click here to see the video clip.


Editor's note:

Silence has long been golden in criminal law. Any criminal defense attorney worth his or her salt would advise a client never to say anything to police without a lawyer present. But a case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is raising the issue of subject's silence in criminal cases anew. In certain situations, could not talking to police be held against a defendant? We at Scaringi Law will be watching this case very closely. And we will bring you the latest information on how your silence in a criminal investigation could affect your court case. Look for the latest right here on our website.

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