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How important are my Miranda rights?

As a New Jersey resident, you should understand the importance of your Miranda rights well before an occasion arises during which you are arrested and questioned by law enforcement officers regarding a criminal matter. As FindLaw explains, there is much more to the Miranda warning than a mere recitation of rights that law enforcement officers are required to tell you when they arrest you. These rights have enormous meaning and consequences, and as established by the landmark 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona, are the foundation of your constitutional right to liberty.

The right to remain silent

First and foremost among your Miranda rights is your right to remain silent. What this means is that you are never under obligation to voluntarily speak with law enforcement officers or give them any information other than identifying yourself when they ask. As a matter of standard procedure, you should never answer their questions unless and until you have an attorney present. Naturally it is poor judgment, at best, to “mouth off” to an officer. Rather, you should respectfully ask for an attorney and decline to answer any questions until you have one.

You should take the second part of the Miranda warning, that anything you say can and will be used against you in court, very seriously. It means what it says and can have far-reaching consequences for what, if any, charges are brought against you and what, if anything, you could be convicted of.

Remember, law enforcement officials are not required to give you a Miranda warning prior to taking you into custody. Nevertheless, your right to remain silent applies to pre-arrest situations, too. It is founded in your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The right to have an attorney

Your right to an attorney is crucial. You can invoke this right whenever you wish, be it before or during questioning. At the point you ask for an attorney, all questioning must stop and cannot resume until your attorney arrives. Also important to remember is that if you do not have an attorney and cannot afford one, law enforcement officials are required to make sure that a Public Defender or other attorney is appointed to represent you. This is general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice.

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