Once you are arrested and taken into custody in South Carolina, you have the right to remain silent. You do not have to respond to police interrogation, and you do not have to testify at your trial. This right is rooted in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself [or herself].”
Also known as the privilege against self-incrimination, the right to remain silent is essential for criminal defendants in South Carolina. If individuals who have committed crimes could be forced to answer police questions or testify in court, they would have no choice but to either: (i) admit to committing a crime; or (ii) lie to avoid confessing, which is itself a criminal offense.
So, you have the right to remain silent—should you use it? What if you are innocent? Is there ever a situation in which you should agree to talk to the police or testify in your own defense at trial?
If You Have Been Arrested in South Carolina, You Should Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent
Regardless of whether you are certain that you are innocent or believe that you are guilty, you should exercise your right to remain silent if you get arrested in South Carolina. This applies if the police read your Miranda rights, but it also applies if they don’t. Failure to read your Miranda rights is not a “get out of jail free” card, and the police do not necessarily have to read your rights immediately upon arresting you. Rather than identifying yourself, you do not have to provide any information, and as a general rule, you should not do so.
But what if you don’t have anything to hide? Even if you don’t think you have committed a crime, you should still politely decline to answer any questions during or after your arrest. This is because:
- You could be wrong; and, even though you think you are innocent, you may have committed a crime under South Carolina law.
- Talking to the police will only lead to more questions, and it could lead to additional investigation even if you have not committed a crime.
- Police and prosecutors know your rights, and exercising your right to remain silent does not “make you look guilty,” as many people mistakenly believe.
When you get arrested in South Carolina, in addition to the right to remain silent, you also have the right legal counsel. To protect yourself after your arrest, the best thing you can do is say that you will not be answering any questions and that you would like to speak with a lawyer.
You Should Continue to Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent Unless Your Attorney Advises Otherwise
As your criminal case progresses, you should continue to exercise your right to remain silent unless your attorney advises you otherwise. Generally speaking. However, your attorney will communicate with the police and prosecutors on your behalf throughout your case. This ensures that you don’t say anything you shouldn’t, and it avoids the risk of having the police talking you into answering questions or providing information when it is not in your best interests to do so.
In limited circumstances, your attorney might advise you to speak with the police. However, your attorney should always be present for these discussions. Your attorney will be able to ensure that the line of questioning is appropriate, and he or she will be able to stop you if you begin to say something that could be used against you at your criminal trial.
Whether You Should Testify at Your Trial Depends on the Specific Facts of Your Case
Speaking of the trial, as a defendant, should you ever testify on your own behalf? In some cases, yes, it will make sense to do so. However, whether you should testify in your criminal case depends on numerous different factors. Your criminal defense attorney will need to make a strategic decision based upon all of the specific facts and circumstances at hand.
What Happens if You Don’t Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent?
If you fail to exercise your right to remain silent, then anything you say can be used against you in your criminal case. This is true whether you knowingly waive your rights or you inadvertently provide a statement when you are not constitutionally required to do so.
If the police fail to read your Miranda rights, this might provide grounds for having your statement deemed inadmissible in court. But, this is far from guaranteed. Many police investigators are very good at what they do. Not only do they know how to wait for the last possible moment to read suspects’ Miranda rights, but they also know how to gather information without suspects realizing that they are incriminating themselves.
The main risk associated with testifying at your own trial comes from the fact that, if you choose to testify, the prosecution has the ability to conduct a cross-examination. While you can prepare your “direct” trial testimony in advance, you cannot always be prepared for what prosecutors will ask you on the stand. If you contradict yourself, if you get angry or flustered, or if you make any other mistakes on cross-examination, you could very well find yourself facing a guilty verdict that you could – and should – have avoided.
Request a Free Consultation with Rock Hill, SC Criminal Defense Attorney Michael L. Brown
Have you been arrested for a crime in South Carolina? If so, we encourage you to contact us immediately—before you talk to the police or go to court for your bond hearing or first appearance. To discuss your case with Rock Hill, SC criminal defense attorney Michael L. Brown in confidence, call 803-328-8822 or tell us how we can reach you online now.