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Miranda rights and the right to remain silent

Most adults in Texas have heard the phrase, "you have the right to remain silent." Crime novels, television depictions and movies that involve police often use the phrase to wind up the story as some sort of conclusion of guilt. The phrase is part of the well-known warning of the right to remain silent that the courts impose on police and investigators prior to a "custodial interrogation."

Unfortunately, the phrase is ubiquitous in the entertainment industry. Many people do not understand when Miranda rights are required--and as importantly, when voluntary statements may be used against a person who has not been advised of his or her rights. In many situations, it is a misconception to believe that if the police have not advised a person of their Miranda rights, any statements made cannot be used against them.

The warnings are only required when a person is in custody and police are seeking answers to questions, or engaging in an interrogation. The analysis for what may constitute "custody" can be complex. If you have already spoken to police without the presence or guidance of a criminal defense lawyer, it may be wise to seek advice from a skilled attorney as soon as possible. In essence, the right to remain silent is a constitutional protection, and exists in any encounter with police.

Voluntary or non-custodial statements may be used as evidence

Members of law enforcement often seek statements from a person in the early stages of an investigation - or even during a traffic stop. In most of these situations, if there is an absence of formal custody, Miranda warnings are not required. It is important to understand two main points here. First, any statements made will likely be found to be voluntary and may be used against you in court. Second, individuals have the right to remain silent--speaking with police without the presence of a lawyer is not the best choice.

Some people are tempted to speak with investigators in an effort to talk their way out of possible trouble. Providing a plausible story to police to show innocence may likely backfire. Any statements may be admissible at a later date. Contradictory evidence may overcome the "plausible" story, even if that story is true. Any statements may sway a jury to find guilt when weighed against other evidence at trial.

When dealing with police, it is often prudent to remain cooperative. But that does not mean that answering questions or providing statements to investigators is the best option. If you are under investigation or charged with a criminal offense, seeking the help of a criminal defense lawyer is important. You have the right to have an attorney present during any police questioning.

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