Any interaction with a law enforcement officer can be a terrifying event. Especially in today’s heated political climate, interactions can escalate quickly, and verbal or physical violence can ensue. It is important to know what to say and do to stay safe in these interactions. It is also important to understand your constitutional rights. If you do not understand and enforce these rights, the police could ignore them. They are allowed to ask you to waive your rights, to use various tactics to convince you to talk about the allegations, or even outright lie to you. By knowing what your rights are and how to enforce them safely, you can ensure that you stay safe and protect your constitutional rights after any arrest. Make sure you hire a criminal defense attorney right away if you’ve been arrested for any type of criminal charges.
Your Right to Remain Silent
The Fifth Amendment protects defendants from self-incrimination. This means that the state cannot force you to testify against yourself at trial. It also means that the state (acting through its law enforcement officers) cannot force you to make statements or give evidence that will incriminate you. This is why it is so important to invoke your right to remain silent after an arrest – and then actually stay silent. You do not have to agree to waive this right. You do not have to answer questions about the allegations against you. You do not even have to answer generic questions about what happened. This is a common strategy used by police officers, and it is surprisingly effective. Most people have the instinct to answer such a question – especially when it is being asked by an authority figure. This is why police commonly ask drivers, “do you know why I pulled you over?”: the driver will usually answer by admitting to speeding, or swerving, or reckless driving, or some other offense.
Your Right to Counsel
The Sixth Amendment grants you the right to counsel. You do not have the right to counsel in every minor case, but many charges cannot result in a lawful conviction unless the defendant had the opportunity to consult with counsel. If the defendant declines this right and chooses to represent him- or herself, the court will be sure to document this waiver in detail on the record and be sure that the defendant thoroughly understands the legal rights he or she is giving up.
But the right to counsel gives you protections long before trial. Any interrogation by law enforcement agents can result in incriminating statements. Because of this, you have the right to decline to answer any such questions until you have had the opportunity to consult with a criminal defense attorney. You should exercise this right: without it, any minor detail or statement or observation could be used to build a case against you.
The “Miranda Rights”
The Fifth and Sixth Amendments have granted these rights to criminal defendants in the United States for over two hundred years. But until recently, many defendants never understood these rights, and most were unable to effectively protect themselves from law enforcement officers who violated these rights. These problems resulted in a landmark Supreme Court ruling in the Miranda case. In that opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that every law enforcement officer must warn suspects of their constitutional rights before subjecting them to “custodial interrogation.” (“Custody” is defined as arrest or a similar level of restriction on the suspect’s movement. “Interrogation” is any questioning that is designed to elicit an incriminating response.) Police do not have to give the Miranda warnings when a suspect is arrested, but they cannot question the suspect until they are given.
So what are the Miranda warnings? You probably know them from popular movies and crime drama television shows:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can be used against you.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.
These warnings have become almost universally known since the Miranda case was decided in 1963. Thanks to this important case, many people know about their constitutional rights and are therefore able to protect them if they are ever arrested.
What You Do Have to Say
So what do you have to say to the police after an arrest? The simple answer is not much. You do have to provide identification if asked. You should also cooperate with booking procedures, such as being handcuffed or asked about your address. These administrative tasks are not protected by your right to counsel or your protection against self-incrimination. If you fail to cooperate, you could even incur additional criminal charges. Comply with these procedures as much as possible.
What you do not have to answer is any question that could be incriminating. You do not have to say what happened, or what you were doing, or who you were with. You do not have to admit to wrongdoing. If the police try to ask you these types of incriminating questions, you should politely decline to answer and let them know that you would like to invoke your right to silence or your right to consult with an attorney. Do not become angry or confrontational. Be as polite as possible while still asserting your right to decline to answer any incriminating questions.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys for All Wisconsin Criminal Charges
If you’ve been arrested on any type of criminal charges, it is important to hire a defense attorney as soon as possible. The longer you go without counsel, the more likely it is that your legal rights will be violated. Contact us at (920) 450-9800 to schedule a consultation with one of the experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff. You have important constitutional rights that must be defended throughout the entire criminal court process, and our skilled lawyers know how to protect them. Early intervention can help get a more favorable resolution to your case. Our attorneys know how to develop an effective legal strategy that is right for your specific case.