How to exercise your right to remain silent

You may have heard that the law does not require you to talk to a law enforcement officer if he or she questions you. The Miranda warning even includes the clear statement that you have the right to remain silent. However, you do not necessarily want to just press your lips together and refuse to talk when an officer approaches you.

Here is what you need to know in an encounter with authorities.

Provide identification

If an officer asks for your name or your identification, then provide it. You do not have to offer it without the request, though. When you need to reach into a purse, a pocket or somewhere in your vehicle to retrieve it, explain what you are doing so the officer knows you are not reaching for a firearm, and you do not pose a threat.

Ask if the officer is detaining you

Law enforcement must have a reason to keep you from going about your business. To find out if the officer thinks there is a reason to detain you, you may want to ask politely, “Am I free to go?” If you are, then staying is voluntary, and any information you offer could be used against you in court. You could also accidentally provide probable cause for detainment.

State your wishes

After an arrest, you have the right to remain silent, even if the officer has not given you the Miranda warning. To indicate that you wish to exercise your right, you should say, “I want to remain silent.” You might also let the police know that you want to speak to an attorney.

Repeat yourself

Even though you do not have to answer questions, the law allows police to question you. No matter what anyone says, threatens or promises, your only answer should be that you want to remain silent, or that you want to talk to an attorney.

Tell friends and family later

Although your conversation with an attorney is private, a phone call to a family member may not be. It is not a good idea to discuss the situation with anyone else until you have received legal advice.

Be polite

Throughout the encounter, no matter how authorities approach you, speak or act, you should remain calm and keep a pleasant demeanor to avoid any escalation. You may want to say, “Good morning, sir,” or “Thank you, ma’am,” although you want to avoid any yes or no answers. Whether politeness defuses the situation or not, it may still help you avoid providing probable cause. 

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