Most people think they have a Constitutional right to remain silent. That is close, but the correct right is not to be compelled to be a witness against oneself. The Supreme Court made that right clearer when it required police to tell people under arrest that they have the “right to remain silent.”
But, what if you are not yet under arrest? What if you don’t answer police questions, but just choose to say nothing? Can that be used against you? Well, what the Supreme Court gives, they also take away.
In a recent case (Salinas v. Texas for those of you who want to read it), the Supreme Court said you have to not answer questions in a specific way in order to not have your silence used against you. If you just remain silent, a prosecutor can later tell a jury to infer that you are guilty because you remained silent. That is, unless you say you are not answering because you are claiming your 5th Amendment right not to say anything.
Confused?? That’s the point. The Supreme Court has made a simple right not to say anything to the police, and not have it held against you, so difficult that you need to have legal training to understand how to do it.
Specifically, The Supreme Court now says it is a “simple matter” to say that you are “not answering the officer’s question on Fifth Amendment grounds.” Right. Lawyers and judges debate what the 5th Amendment means, but it is a “simple matter” for ordinary citizens to know when the 5th Amendment applies, and how to correctly assert the rights it contains.
Again, rights we fought a revolution for are being eroded. The lesson to be learned is to get a lawyer before talking to the police. Just refusing to talk can be as bad as saying the wrong thing. Make sure you are staying silent the right way.