Your right to remain silent when you have been accused of a crime is an important protection that it is usually in your best interest to invoke. People who are accused of white-collar crimes such as fraud are often especially susceptible to allowing this powerful liberty to slip through their fingers. Better understanding your right to remain silent in the face of legal accusations can help you better protect yourself.
Your Right to Remain Silent
The fact is that your right to remain silent is more complicated than you probably realize. This very important right refers to your right not to say anything that might legally incriminate you, but it is not carte blanche to be silent at all times with no attendant threat of negative consequences). For example, your right to remain silent is not invoked until you are arrested. However, once you are arrested and read your rights, the police must stop questioning you once you have stated that you are invoking your right to counsel. Nevertheless, it is your obligation to affirmatively state your right to counsel. Anything you say after this invocation is inadmissible in court. Again, this only applies after an arrest.
Your Police Interview
There is no easy answer to the question of whether you have the absolute right to silence when you are being interviewed by the police (and are not under arrest). Generally speaking, no one is obligated to answer posed to them by the police. However, if you are stopped for a driving offense or at the scene of an accident, you are required to answer the basic questions posed by the officer who questions you. This includes providing information that can include:
Other identifying information
Your contact information
Generally, in situations involving traffic stops or questioning at the scene of an accident, it is in your best interest to answer all reasonable questions as honestly and succinctly as possible.
Your Silence Can Be Found Incriminating
An important 2013 Supreme Court decision in Salinas vs. Texas clearly demonstrates that your silence can be used against you. In this case, the defendant in question voluntarily spoke with the police during the course of a murder investigation. He was not under arrest at the time, and when the police inquired about any involvement in the crime on his part, the interviewee went silent and immediately altered his demeanor (according to the interviewing officer). Because the defendant was not under arrest at the time and did not invoke the right to remain silent, the court found that his rights had not been violated.