Constitutional Rights: The Right to Remain Silent

By Maynard & Sumner, LLC of Maynard & Sumner, LLC posted in Constitutional Rights on Monday, September 24, 2012.

The right to remain silent or the privilege against self-incrimination is a constitutional right provided by both the federal and New Jersey state constitutions. However, remaining silent can work against you in some instances. On September 12, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court reviewed a case in which a man was convicted of allowing an intoxicated individual to drive while under the influence (DWI) of alcohol. The defendant did not state whether he or his friend was driving the vehicle at the time they were stopped. Therefore, the lower courts used the defendant’s silence against him as substantive evidence of guilt.

The NJ Supreme Court held:

The use of defendant’s silence as a substantive evidence of his guilt for the purpose of assessing his credibility violated his federal constitutional privilege against self-incrimination, and his state statutory and common law privilege against self-incrimination. Given the prominent role that defendant’s silence play in his conviction, the error was clearly capable of producing an unjust result and warrant a new trial.

Under the federal and state constitutions, a person has the right to remain so as not to self-incriminate. However as seen above, a person’s silence may be used as evidence of guilt. So when is a person protected under the constitution? The New Jersey Supreme Court states:

Under the New Jersey Supreme Court’s jurisprudence, even silence that precedes the administration of Miranda warnings – if it is “at or near” the time of a defendant’s arrest, when there is no government compulsion and the objective circumstances demonstrate that a reasonable person in a defendant’s position would have acted differently, can be used to impeach that defendant’s credibility with an appropriate limited instruction. It cannot, however, be used a substantive evidence of a defendant’s guilt.

If you have been arrested for a DWI, disorderly person’s offense, or a crime, consult an experienced NJ criminal defense attorney who will aggressively fight to preserve your constitutional rights!

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