If you have not participated in criminal activity or witnessed a potential crime, members of law enforcement are not likely to bother you. When officers think you have relevant information about a criminal matter, though, speaking to you launches to the top of their to-do list. Still, talking to officers can be a terrible idea.
As you probably know, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from self-incrimination. According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, this fundamental right allows you not to answer questions from law enforcement. When exactly does the protection begin, though?
Your voluntary cooperation
Even though you have a right not to incriminate yourself, you are free to do whatever you choose. This includes talking to police officers and even confessing to crimes.
If officers are conducting an informal interview with your voluntary participation, they usually do not have to tell you about your right to remain silent. Nevertheless, the voluntary nature of this type of interaction means you do not have to participate in it.
A custodial interrogation
Before officers perform a custodial interrogation of you, they must inform you of your right to remain silent. A custodial interrogation is police questioning that happens when you are not free to leave.
It is a good idea to exercise your rights during a custodial interrogation, as officers do not usually interrogate individuals they believe are innocent. If officers do not inform you of your constitutional rights before performing a custodial interrogation, you may be able to use the error to your advantage later on.
Ultimately, though, to protect yourself as much as possible, it is advisable to stay silent until you have obtained competent legal counsel.