Being pulled over by the police can be stressful – being accused of driving under the influence can be downright terrifying. Because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Salinas v. Texas, 2013, protections under the 5th amendment, which provides for the right to remain silent, must be advised by a police officer or obviously invoked in order for suspects of crimes to receive certain protections. In other words, it is now in a person’s best interests if, whenever approached by police, to advise the police that the right to remain silent is being invoked. This way, full 5th amendment protections “kick in” and the person’s silence may not be used against him or her in court.
If, prior to being read his or her rights, and prior to invoking the right to remain silent in a way that was reasonable and obvious (like saying “I invoke my right to remain silent”), the person refused to answer questions, stopped questioning at a certain point, or stood stubbornly in silence, then that person’s refusal to answer questions, the fact that questioning was stopped, or standing stubbornly in silence may actually be used against the suspect in court as evidence of a guilty conscience.
After Invoking Silence
However, if after invoking the right to remain silent a suspect refuses to answer a question, stops questioning at a certain point, or stands in stubborn silence, then this may not be used against the person as evidence of a guilty conscience because, once the right is invoked, the person has the right not to say anything that may incriminate him or herself, and the prosecutor in the case has no legal grounds to introduce the exercising of a Constitutionally granted right as evidence of a criminal act.
Therefore, during the very beginning of any police contact, it is better for a person to exercise the right to remain silent as quickly and politely as possible, and to reiterate the exercising of the right in the event that the police ask any questions. The only questions a person will be required to answer will be those to identify the person, like name and date of birth. Any other questions, like those regarding the activities of the night, those regarding the habits of any of the occupants of a vehicle, and those regarding specific violations of the law do not have to be answered once the right to remain silent has been revoked.
Killing with Kindness
The phrase “kill ‘em with kindness” is one that translates well in terms of contact with police. While a person exercises the right to remain silent, it should be done coolly, calmly, and politely. Throwing in a “sir” or “ma’am” and the end of the invocation won’t hurt either. Many police officers use behavior of suspects like shouting, name calling, and general “contempt of cop” as an excuse to pile on charges even if they may not be totally appropriate.
While frivolous charges won’t hold up in court, it will be helpful to the attorney handling the case not to have to deal with such charges, and showing the court that a person is an upstanding and decent member of society is a much easier when there isn’t testimony describing the blatant disrespect of a civil servant in the performance of his or her duties. Make no mistake about it, exercising one’s rights with polite words and common decency is much more effective than exercising them with malice and rage toward a police officer.