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Right of silence: Fifth Amendment case presented to Supreme Court


We've all heard these famous words: you have the right to remain silent. Whether someone has been arrested or just heard the words on a television show or movie, many people are familiar with the phrase that police should tell a person after an arrest. But what exactly does this all mean.

It means that people don't have to tell police anything after they are arrested or facing criminal charges. Now, one case is working to establish what that silence means. If a person decides that they want to invoke their Fifth Amendment right of not to be a witness against one's self, when can they invoke this right of silence? A case that was recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court could decide whether a person has a right to be silent to police questioning before they are arrested or read their Miranda rights.

The case involved a man who was asked a question by authorities, but didn't answer it before he was formally charged with a crime. The man was then convicted and at trial the prosecutor told the jury that the man's silence to the question was a representation of his guilt. The prosecutor suggested that since he didn't deny a relation to the alleged crime, he must have been guilty.

Depending on how the Supreme Court rules in this case, the outcome could have far reaching changes for how authorities question people, and how court cases proceed. Speaking with a criminal defense attorney even before formal charges are filed might be a wise decision for anyone who could be facing criminal charges in New Jersey.

Source: MSNBC, "The Supreme Court takes up the Fifth Amendment: Is silence proof of guilt?," Dominic Perella, April 16, 2013

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