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Silence Is Golden: Not Just For the Movies

  • Birdsall Obear

AMC Theatres used to play a clip before movies that told audiences “Please don’t spoil the movie by adding your own soundtrack” and “Silence is Golden”. The same guidelines should be issued to potential criminal suspects: “Please don’t spoil your defense by adding your own statements. Silence is golden.”

“Silence is golden” is not the only part of the movie experience that applies to criminal defense. If you have viewed films involving law enforcement or crime you are undoubtedly familiar with the concept of a suspect being read the Miranda warning, beginning with “you have the right to remain silent.”

It is critical that you exercise that right whether you are approached by the police, have reason to believe you are under investigation, or have been arrested. The only time you should open your mouth in those circumstances is to seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Miranda Rights Explained

“Miranda” refers to the 1966 court case of Miranda v. Arizona, which found that the Fifth and Sixth amendment rights of a suspect had been violated. Police officers began clearly informing suspects of their rights when placed under arrest after Miranda in order to avoid similar outcomes in the future.

The text of the Miranda warning is always similar to the following: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering at any time." 

“So I shouldn’t talk to the police at all without an attorney?”


Even if you are 100 percent sure you have done nothing wrong. Even saying “I didn’t do it” can cause problems in your defense and lead to further questions from investigators such as “You didn’t do it? So you admit that there is an it we should be concerned with?”

When it comes to criminal defense and your rights, you don’t know what you don’t know, and what you don’t know can hurt you dearly. Even if you believe what you have to say is exculpatory there is still a chance it could further complicate your defense or lead to further trouble. On the other hand, keeping your mouth shut while you wait for your attorney to arrive has a zero percent chance of making your situation worse.

Patience Pays When Your Rights Are On the Line

It can be excruciatingly difficult not to speak up in your own defense when accused of a crime. Be patient. Once your attorney arrives you can say as much as you’d like in a private setting free from the possibility of damaging your defense prospects.

The Big Exception

Generally, whether you are the subject of heinous allegations or pulled over on suspicion of DUI, the only words worth saying about where you were or what you were doing are “I would like to speak to a lawyer.” Bear in mind, however, that if you are asked to submit to an evidentiary test of your blood, breath or urine after being arrested for a drunk driving offense, your answer does NOT fall within the Miranda rules and you could lose your driving privileges by simply saying “no” to such a request. These cases present complicated scenarios that require the analysis of an attorney with significant expertise in this area of law, so you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Asking to speak with your lawyer, or any statement indicating that you may not be consenting to an evidentiary test, will likely be considered a refusal with drastic consequences, so remember the big exception to the rule if you find yourself in such a situation.

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