“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford one, the court will provide one.” You have probably heard police officers say this on a TV show or in a movie, but do you know where this warning comes from and why Hollywood always seems to work it into scripts?
This month we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of a United States Supreme Court decision called Miranda v. Arizona. In that case, the court ruled that the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, which says people cannot be forced to incriminate themselves, requires police officers to respect that right when taking suspects into custody and interrogating them.
The Right to Remain Silent
The 5th Amendment’s promise that no one should be forced to incriminate themselves means that you have the right to be silent. You don’t have to say anything in court, at the jailhouse, or at the time of arrest.
Need further proof that keeping your mouth shut is the right thing to do? Check out this news story and video of an attorney getting pulled over by New Jersey State Troopers, and then being arrested because she refused to answer any questions. Once they got her to the station, the higher ups figured out what had happened, and bent over backwards apologizing. The whole thing is now the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the attorney.
The Right to an Attorney
All persons charged of a crime also have the right to hire an attorney to represent them since the legal system is complex, and not knowing what you are doing can have very serious consequences.
In fact, having an attorney represent you is so important if you are being charged with a crime, that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government will pay for an attorney for you if you can’t afford one.
What Happens if Police Don’t Tell You About Your Rights
There is a rumor going around that if the police forget to read you your Miranda rights, you cannot be convicted of a crime. THIS IS NOT TRUE! Even if the police fail to read you your rights, you can still be convicted and go to prison.
Here in Burlington County, we officially celebrated the anniversary of the Miranda decision on Law Day, which is a special holiday started by President Eisenhower that is designed to raise public awareness of the importance of the law.
It is wonderful everyone is paying so much attention to this important topic, but the Miranda decision and the warnings given to people because of it, is not something that should just be celebrated with fancy dinners and speeches. It is something we should celebrate and be thankful for every day.
Living in a nation of laws means that police can’t push us around or bully us into incriminating ourselves or pressure us into confessing to crimes we didn’t commit. This is truly something to celebrate, and something to learn about so we know how to take advantage of the rights we have.