Why You Should Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent and Your Right to an Attorney… Even if You’re Innocent

by J.D. Garrett on November 2, 2013

Waiving Miranda Rights Can Lead To False ConfessionsLast year in Virginia, 341,577 people were arrested. Despite being arrested for a variety of crimes, each one of these arrests shared one aspect in common: at some point, the suspect was informed of his or her right to remain silent and right to counsel. Known as the Miranda rights, many of those arrested chose to waive these rights. The Miranda rights are vital constitutional safeguards that are designed for the benefit of the person arrested, and the consequences of waiving these rights can be devastating.

In Miranda v. Arizona, a landmark decision in 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police are required to advise a suspect in police custody of both the suspect’s constitutional right to consult with an attorney before and during police questioning and the suspect’s right against self-incrimination. If the suspect in custody gives statements to the police prior to the Miranda warning, or if the police elicit incriminating statements after the suspect invoked his or her Miranda rights, the statements are inadmissible in court.

Why Do People Waive Their Miranda Rights?

The right to remain silent and the right to counsel during questioning are incredibly important to a fair justice system. During an interrogation, the police’s main objective is to elicit incriminating evidence or a confession from the suspect. Police can lie about evidence and witnesses, and can employ a variety of psychological tactics to trick or mislead the suspect into making incriminating statements. Yet despite their importance, people choose to waive their Miranda rights for a variety of reasons.

According to a study by the American Psychology Association, nearly 31% of defendants polled wrongly believed that their silence could be used as incriminating evidence against them at trial. The same study found that many people do not realize that the police can lie during the interrogation. The Innocence Project also conducted a study in which participants were charged with a mock crime and told at the beginning of the experiment whether they were either guilty or innocent of the crime. The participants were then interrogated in police custody about the crime. Most of the “innocent” participants waived their Miranda rights, trusting that their innocence would save them. However, the police can be incorrect in their suspicions, and a suspect that waives his or her Miranda rights could ultimately be wrongfully convicted.

Innocent suspects also may decide that it is better to admit to a crime and hope for a plea deal, rather than try to fight the charges. While many people may think, “I would never confess to a crime that I didn’t commit,” false confessions are surprisingly common. Suppose you are falsely arrested for murdering a friend. The day before the murder, witnesses saw you and the victim arguing in public, and after the argument, you sent a text message to another friend that said, “I’m so mad, I could kill him.” During your interrogation, the detective shows you the text message, tells you that witnesses to the argument have come forward, and falsely states your DNA was found at the scene of the crime. As your interrogation continues into the ninth hour, the detective explains that you are facing the death penalty and the Commonwealth has all the evidence that they need to convict you. “But,” the detective counsels, “if you waive your Miranda rights and confess, you may only serve a few years in prison.” Faced with this situation, many may choose to waive the their Miranda rights and falsely confess, rather than hoping for a favorable outcome at trial.

Your right to remain silent and right to counsel is incredibly important. Even if you are innocent, it is vital that you invoke your Miranda rights. Police can make mistakes and innocent people can be wrongly convicted of crimes. If you are charged with a crime in Virginia, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney. A conviction can mean serious consequences that can follow you for the rest of your life. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys will work hard to craft your strongest defense.

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