We’ve all heard the famous phrase “you have the right to remain silent,” typically in a movie when the police are arresting someone. That right comes from the United States Constitution, and it is crucial in every step of the criminal justice process – from the moment the police take you into custody all the way until the end of your trial.
Your rights while in custody
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution grants you the right to remain silent, and protection against involuntary self-incrimination, during your interactions with the criminal justice system.
This protection serves an important role in your interactions with police before your trial, because it means that the police cannot force you to respond to their questions and then use your answers against you in court.
Protection against self-incrimination in court
However, your Fifth Amendment rights also play an important role during your trial itself. Your protection against being forced to incriminate yourself also means that a court cannot force you to testify at your own criminal trial.
You can choose to testify, if you and your attorney decide that it would help your defense strategy to do so. But if you choose not to testify, the prosecution cannot use that decision against you.
In other words, the prosecution and the court cannot comment on your decision not to testify, even in an indirect manner. The reason for this is because, if the prosecution were to emphasize to the jury your reluctance to testify, the jury could form conclusions about your guilt that are based on improper reasoning and guesswork, rather than on the proven facts and evidence in the case.
The Constitution provides us with fundamental rights, and the court system allows us to invoke those rights so that we can have access to a fair and honest trial. The right to remain silent during your criminal trial is one of the most important tools you have when putting together your criminal defense with your attorney.