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The Sanders Firm, P.C.: Self-Incrimination and Law Enforcement

At The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York City, we are concerned for everyone’s rights, especially as they pertain to self-incrimination and law enforcement. We understand that law enforcement has a very important and difficult job to do, but we also know that every one of us has rights granted to us by the Constitution of the United States. One of those rights is concerned with individuals who accused of committing a crime giving evidence against themselves.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that a person charged with a crime may not be forced to “be a witness against himself.” In other words, when we face criminal charges we may refuse to answer questions based on the Constitution’s prohibition against self-incrimination. This right extends to us when we are in contact with law enforcement officials.

Miranda v. Arizona

Generally, today when a person has contact with law enforcement officials, and told they are the target of a criminal investigation, their “Miranda Rights,” are read before they are asked any questions related to the crime. In Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination requires that law enforcement officials must advise a suspect in custody of his/her rights to remain silent and to secure legal representation. In other words, it is the duty of law enforcement to let any suspect know that they may invoke their right against self-incrimination by not answering any questions posed to them.

Miranda Warnings

Generally, the Miranda warnings must be read after a person is taken into police custody and before the law enforcement official begins to question a person suspected of or accused of a crime.

Through the Miranda warnings, suspects are cautioned to be aware of the following:

  • They have the right to remain silent
  • Anything they say during questioning may be used against them in a court of law
  • They have the right to have an attorney present
  • If they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to them

The suspect must acknowledge that they understand the warning they have been given. If they do not, it must be re-phrased until they understand. They may then elect to waive their Miranda rights and agree to answer questions or they may elect to remain silent and request the presence of an attorney. Miranda rights can be asserted any time after the questioning has commenced.

Violation of the Fifth Amendment

The most common violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination involves the Miranda rights. This may include law enforcement forgetting to or electing not to inform one of their rights, a suspect being unable to understand their rights and not waiving them with consent, or officers making it difficult for a suspect to assert their rights. None of these situations is acceptable in terms of one preserving their rights granted to them by the United States Constitution.

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