Law is not black or white, it's grey

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History & overview of right to remain silent

You Have The Right To Remain Silent. 

You’ve heard these words countless times in movies and on television. You’ve read them in newspapers and in books. But what do the words “you have the right to remain silent” really mean? 

Remember, knowledge is power. 

So by understanding your right to remain silent, you will increase your knowledge, and so, increase your power.

And you need such power to protect yourself against others in society who have a different kind of power, a kind of power that is both very serious and very intimidating. 

I am talking about the power of agents of the government, such as police officers, marshals, deputies, and detectives.  

As they leave their offices each day and each night, these agents of law enforcement are armed with badges, batons, pepper spray, tasers, and guns.

Sometimes they are in uniform and sometimes they are camouflaged by plain clothes.

These officers and agents who work for the government are given extraordinary power by the law to do things you and I cannot do: they can stop you in your car, take your property, invade your home without your consent, and deprive you of your liberty. 

So by knowing your rights under the law, and in particular, your right to remain silent, you can protect yourself, as people throughout history have always needed to do, against those in government who, otherwise, are much more powerful than you. 

If you are like most people, you are, every day of your life, subject to the laws of three governments: (1) the government of the United States; (2) the government of the state in which you live; and (3) the government of the city or town in which you make your home.

Each of these governments has its own separate laws, and each of these governments have lots of laws. 

And remember, as proven by laws of segregation and laws prohibiting women from voting, not all of these laws are right or just.

Each of these governments employs hundreds if not thousands of agents who are paid, often quite well, to enforce the laws.

Agents of the government, such as police officers, are not only paid by the government; they are also directed by the government, as well as supported in their work by the government.

Whether we’re talking about competition on the playing field, in the market place, or on the street, everyone wants to win.  Agents of the government are no different. So law enforcement officers daily work in concert with countless  other officers, both within their own departments and elsewhere, in the effort to increase the power they have over you, and to insure they will win.

In short, each of these federal, state, and city governments possess infinitely more money, arms, and manpower than individuals like yourself who stand alone, and who are, without knowledge of their rights, in comparison, close to powerless.

But although it is true that you are a tiny, humble David and, in comparison, the government is a gigantic, all-powerful Goliath, all is not lost; whether you know it or not, you have a weapon as powerful as the little sling that David, a mere shepherd boy, used to strike down the mighty, invincible Goliath.

The weapon I am talking about is the Bill of Rights, and specifically here, your right to remain silent. 

The United States Constitution is the document that the Founding Fathers adopted in order to define how the new government in America should operate.

Having suffered under an oppressive British government in which all of the power was unfairly concentrated in the hands of a King, the Founding Fathers of this country decided that Americans could reduce the risk of such misconduct by its own new government if they divided the power of government into three branches.

That’s why the Constitution describes the responsibilities of a trinity of governmental branches: the Executive Branch (the president), a Legislative Branch (Congress), and a Judicial Branch (the court system).

But the Founding Fathers later corrected the Constitution by adding something they called “the Bill of Rights,” a document listing very special legal rights meant specifically to protect the people against abuses committed by the British government against the American colonists. 

Although hard to believe, before the American colonies of Great Britain became the independent United States of America, the King of England, and his agents, tortured people in horrible ways to force them to confess to crimes such as opposing the policies of the King, crimes of which they were often innocent.

And it’s just simple common sense that a person, even if innocent, is likely to confess to just about anything when tortured, or threatened with torture.

So, when the Founding Fathers created this country, they envisioned a nation in which such torture could not take place.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a nation in which no man, in a criminal case, could be forced by the government “to be a witness against himself.”

In other words, it was the conscious wish of the Founding Fathers to take away from the government any power it might otherwise have to force people to say negative or damaging things about themselves.

So the Founding Fathers adopted the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. (It’s located in the Bill of Rights.) The Fifth Amendment states that, under the government of the new United States “no person shall . . . be compelled [by an agent of agents of the government] in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”

In this way, because confessions or other damaging information obtained from a person by governmental force, or even the threat of force, becomes illegal, agents of the government can gain no legal advantage by torturing people.

So where does your right to remain silent come into play?

Good question.  Check out these pages about the The history of Ernesto Miranda of Miranda rights fame, and the definitive guide to Miranda rights in Florida, which discusses, among other things, what if the cops didn't read you your Miranda rights.

-Grey

"Law is not black or white, it's Grey"

561-686-6886

Florida Bar board certified criminal trial lawyer Grey Tesh has argued countless motions to suppress statements before trial courts.  He has also argued Miranda rights issues, including the right to remain silent, in a first degree murder case before the Florida Supreme Court.