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If you are like most people, your first inclination when accused of doing something wrong is to defend yourself. You may feel that, if you could just explain your circumstances, the situation would resolve itself. This may work in some instances, but when it comes to potentially facing criminal charges, trying to provide an explanation would probably not serve your interests.

Most people understand from television and movies that they have the right to remain silent. However, they may not know how to make sure they protect that right when faced with questions from police. It's not as simple as staying quiet.

Taking advantage of your right to remain silent

You don't have to wait for police to arrest you to take advantage of your right to remain silent. In fact, some officers will ask you questions prior to making an arrest to help establish probable cause. In addition, police know that many people believe their rights don't kick in until after an arrest, so the more information they gather prior to that point, the better. By answering questions other than basic information, such as your name and address, all you are doing is giving police more ammunition against you.

Instead, you can invoke your right not to answer any questions right away, but the way you do it is important. You can't just clam up. You have to make it clear that you are exercising this vitally important right. You must make it crystal clear. Don't use ambiguous language by making statements such as the following:

  • Maybe I shouldn't answer any questions.
  • I plan to invoke my right to remain silent.
  • Maybe I should talk to a lawyer first.

These types of statements don't necessarily stop police from asking you questions. Courts have sided with police who continued to interrogate an individual who gave these types of responses.

So, what should you do to make it clear?

Making affirmative statements, such as those below, should stop any questioning by police:

  • I want to remain silent.
  • I am exercising my right to remain silent.
  • I want to speak with an attorney.
  • I want to talk to an attorney before answering any questions.

The key is to make sure you remain calm and polite. If you become agitated or combative in any way, you could face additional charges. Officers may attempt to appeal to your need to explain yourself in order to get you to break your silence. They may try to guilt you into answering questions by insinuating that staying quiet just makes you look guilty. Don't fall for these or other tactics. You are exercising a right given to you in the U.S. Constitution. Using it doesn't make you guilty, just smart.

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