By William L. Baskette, Esq.
If you are under investigation or have been stopped by the police, the moment you have contact with the police or prosecutor you have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions other than your name and address. If you are stopped while driving a vehicle, technically, you do not have to say anything but hand the officer your driver’s license and insurance. Your breath may be taken as evidence of intoxication, so the less you talk the less you give evidence against yourself. Neither do you have to talk to the DA, the DA’s investigator, or any other person.
Although you may be pressured into talking, you should resist answering questions that might be used against you in court later on. For instance, if you are stopped for DWI and the officer asks you “Have you been drinking?” obviously, if the answer is “Yes,” you have just confessed to a possible crime. If he asks you “Where did you come from?” and you have just come from a club where alcohol is served, then you may have implicated yourself in a DWI. Although you may not be guilty of anything, what you say and how you act could be misinterpreted and used against you.
We are taught to cooperate with the police and many times, it is the thing to do. Your right to remain silent is, however, a constitutional right and was put into the constitution to protect you from being forced to testify against yourself. Your attorney should be present whenever you are questioned by the police about something you might have done, and your lawyer will advise you whether you should give a statement.
Do not tell your family or friends the details of your case. They could be called to testify against you about what you told them. The only persons you should discuss your case with are your lawyer and priest. Even your cellmate could wind up as a witness against you in your trial.
Always carefully consider your lawyer’s advice whether you should testify at your court hearing. He is trained to know what questions you could be asked by the prosecutor, and whether your testimony could hurt your case more than help. If you have a bad past of prior criminal cases, you don’t want the jury to hear all about your past when they are trying to decide if you are guilty in the current case.
The law says, “You have the right to remain silent, and anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.” You can bet that what you say without the advice of your lawyer may come back to harm you.