The Miranda Warning is likely familiar to most; it's read to people who are being placed under arrest. This warning is meant to "warn" suspects that they need not speak to law enforcement without having council present. When you hear the words "You have the right to remain silent," you are hearing the opening sentence of the warning. To learn more about your rights against self-incrimination when you are arrested, and in other, murkier situations, read on.
Why the Miranda Warning?
You may hear the warning often on television, but not really understand the "why" of it. The U.S. justice system is built around ensuring that both victims and suspects have certain rights. The goal of the Miranda Warning is to inform people about their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when being questioned by law enforcement and to request that an attorney be present for any questioning. The power of this right cannot be understated, since anything you say when being questioned can later be used in court to prosecute you for a crime.
How to Evoke Your Rights
You must take care when dealing this issue, since it's easy to do the wrong thing and relinquish your rights or perpetrate another crime. You cannot just remain completely silent; the law says that you must give your (correct) name and date of birth in order for proper identification. If you decide to evoke your Miranda Rights, you can do so at any time; you do not have to be read the rights. In other words, if they fail to read you your rights, you can still state "I am invoking my Fifth Amendment right against incriminating myself". This statement does not need to be word for word, any variation on it will do.
Not Under Arrest
A tricky gray area can exist in some cases. Often, law enforcement will ask someone to "come down to the station" or "detain" someone without actually informing them that they are under arrest. It can be intimidating to most people to be put in this position, and you may justifiably feel that your freedom is in jeopardy. The reasons for questioning can be perfectly innocent, such as law enforcement simply needing more information about a crime where you were a witness or you had some knowledge. It can also be a precursor to an arrest, however. Anytime you feel that your rights are being threatened, evoke your Fifth Amendment rights and ask for legal representation.
Anytime you find yourself involved in a criminal matter, speak to a defense attorney.