A Florida appeals court recently held that a police officer’s trial testimony that he remembered the defendant “didn’t want to speak with me” was an improper comment on the defendant’s exercise of his right to remain silent. The case serves as an important reminder of an individual’s right under the Constitution to remain silent when questioned by law enforcement where the questioning is likely to elicit an incriminating response. It is equally important to note that courts have long held that an ambiguous statement about wishing to remain silent or to have the presence of a defense attorney present during any questioning is not sufficient to invoke your rights. Because although the Supreme Court has held that law enforcement officers must immediately cease questioning a suspect who invokes his Fifth Amendment rights, the suspect’s invocation of his rights must be unambiguous. If the statement regarding the invocation of rights is ambiguous, law enforcement officers are not obligated to cease interrogation. In assessing whether a person provided an unambiguous invocation of a constitutional right, the Supreme Court has stated that the invocation must be “sufficiently clear that a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement to be a request for an attorney.” Some examples of statements that have been found to not be unambiguous are: “Maybe I should talk to a lawyer” and “I think I might need a lawyer.”
If you are questioned by law enforcement in connection with any alleged criminal conduct, you have the right to remain silent and to speak with a criminal defense attorney before submitting to any questioning.
The author is a criminal defense attorney who represents individuals in state, Federal and military courts.