If a police officer asks you questions about criminal accusations made against you, it can be an extremely scary event. Your adrenaline will probably be high, and you will likely feel the temptation to explain the situation. But doing so can give police probable cause to arrest you. It can also make it harder to defend yourself against criminal charges since the things you say can be used against you in court. That’s why it’s best to know when to speak – and what to say or avoid saying.
The Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment of the United States establishes and protects your right to avoid being forced to testify against yourself. This means that you don’t have to say anything that the prosecution can use against you later.
It also means that you have the right to end police interrogations. The important thing to know about your Fifth Amendment rights is that they are not automatic. If the police are questioning you, and you remain silent, they can continue questioning you indefinitely; they only have to stop questioning you if you unequivocally state that you are invoking your right to remain silent. Once you do that, they must end the interrogation for a reasonable amount of time.
The Sixth Amendment
Your right to be represented by counsel in criminal proceedings comes from the Sixth Amendment. Thanks to this right, you don’t have to face police interrogations on your own but can have an attorney present to counsel you on how to answer questions.
Just like your Fifth Amendment rights, you have to specifically invoke your right to counsel in order for it to take effect. If the police are interrogating you, you can tell the police that you are invoking your right to counsel. If you do, they must stop the interrogation until your attorney arrives.
When you are under the stress of being in police custody, it can be extremely difficult to know what evidence the police may have. The investigators may pretend to have evidence they do not possess in order to get you to talk. But if you specifically invoke your Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights – and avoid saying anything else until your attorney arrives – then you can maximize your chances of being able to put together a solid defense to your charges.