If you're confronted by police, here are some ways to exercise your rights.
The Fifth Amendment gives Americans the right to protect themselves from self-incrimination. However, this right won't help you much if you don't understand when it applies and how to use it.
In general, self-incrimination is when a person, under the pressure of penalty, gives law enforcement information that could lead to criminal charges against that person. To say it another way, self-incrimination is like telling on yourself, but you have a right to stay quiet to protect your freedom.
Staying silent can help out with all kinds of charges, including:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI or DWI)
- Drug charges
- White-collar crimes
- Theft or burglary
- Assault and battery cases
- Sexual assault or criminal sexual conduct allegations
- Domestic violence
Remaining silent alone, however, often isn't enough to protect you from self-incrimination. In fact, unprotected silence before an arrest or during an investigation can be used against you. But if you "plead the Fifth" in these situations, your silence cannot be held against you.
Asserting your Fifth Amendment rights
In general, the key to avoiding self-incrimination is staying quiet. However, a lot of people don't know that your right to remain silent, without it being used against you, is not automatic and does not apply in all situations.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court case - Salinas v. Texas - ruled that the Fifth Amendment must be invoked or it does not apply. To plead the Fifth in situations where you are being compelled to self-incriminate, you can say something like this:
"I am asserting my Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and, therefore, cannot answer this question."
After an arrest has been made, your silence cannot be used against you regardless of declaring the Fifth.
Silence and self-incrimination
In addition to invoking the Fifth Amendment, here are some ways to avoid self-incrimination with police:
Remain silent, mostly. It is your right to stay silent, with or without asserting the protective powers of the Fifth Amendment. However, when dealing with police and legal proceedings, in addition to pleading the Fifth, there are two exceptions to your silence to consider.
- Inform the police about weapons. For your personal safety, if you are armed and/or carrying a concealed weapon, tell the police confronting you. Put your hands up in the air, spread your fingers wide apart, and inform the officer right away that you are armed.
- Ask for a lawyer. You have the right to have a lawyer present when you are answering questions. Asserting your right to legal counsel is not an admission of guilt - it's smart. Criminal law is technical and Texas is known for harsh sentencing. An experienced criminal defense lawyer knows how the system works and how to avoid mistakes in the process.
Keep it short. If you decide to talk to the police, keep your answers short. "Yes" or "no" is mostly all you need. If an officer asks you for identifying information, like name and address, if you want to, respond with that exact information and nothing more. Do not go into detail about the situation that brought you in contact with the police, your personal life, history - anything. The more you say, the more your words can be used against you in court.
Stay calm. It can be difficult to act calm when you're in a tense situation with the police. It is natural to feel upset and defensive and insist that you did nothing wrong. But remember: The police are building a case against you. They could use your words, which were spoken in the heat of the moment, to bolster criminal charges. What you say could also be brought up at trial as evidence or an example of your everyday character. Cooperate with the police and be as peaceful as possible.
The Webb Firm is here to help
Self-incrimination can be difficult to avoid. The law is complicated and one wrong word can take away your freedom. At The Webb Firm, P.C., we are an experienced criminal defense law firm serving Conroe and the surrounding area. We know how the law works around here. Founding attorney Amanda Webb is a former Montgomery County assistant district attorney. She can put her insider knowledge to work for you.
If you are facing criminal charges or expect to be charged in Montgomery County, contact us to schedule a free case consultation. We can explain how the law applies to you and help weigh your legal options. Don't wait. The sooner we start collecting evidence and building your defense, the better. Contact us today.