When you are arrested and given your “Miranda” rights, the very first thing the police tell you is that you have the right to remain silent. In fact, that right is always in effect, even if you are not under arrest or haven’t been informed of your rights. Historically, the right to remain silent – and the subsequent warning that anything you say can be used against you – includes a presumption that your silence will not be held against you. However, a California Supreme Court decision handed down in August undermines that presumption. If you are suspected of DUI and arrested in southern California – whether or not you choose to remain silent – you’re going to need top-notch legal representation right away. Get the help you need by promptly contacting an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney.

In February 2007, a Redwood City man named Richard Tom slammed his Mercedes into a vehicle driven by Loraine Wong. Wong’s youngest daughter was killed; she and her older daughter were severely injured. One witness, a retired San Francisco police officer, testified that he had been drinking with Tom prior to the collision. Tom was convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter, but what makes this case different and important is the way Tom’s silence was used by the prosecutor. Because Tom never asked about the condition of the accident victims, the prosecutor told the jury that Tom’s silence meant that he knew he had done something wrong, and they should consider it as evidence of his guilt. California’s Supreme Court has now upheld Tom’s conviction and ruled that unless you explicitly assert your right to remain silent – and say something like, “I’m sorry, officer, but I’m choosing to exercise my right to remain silent” – prosecutors may introduce your silence as evidence against you.

While most California DUI attorneys would advise you to remain silent if you are suspected of DUI, it now appears you must assert your right to silence in order to exercise it. The People v. Tom ruling adds another complication to DUI law and another legal peril for California residents and visitors accused of DUI and other crimes. The decision is simply one more reason why, if you’re accused of DUI anywhere in southern California, you’ll need to discuss your case at once with an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney.