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The right to counsel and the right to remain silent

Among the constitutional rights of California residents are the Fifth Amendment right to protection against self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal proceedings. Police officers are required to make people aware of these rights prior to custodial interrogation. The admonitions typically given are known as Miranda rights.

Although the right to remain silent is among the most important of the Miranda rights, merely remaining silent is not enough to invoke them. Rather, an individual must clearly state that he or she is choosing to invoke the right to remain silent or that he or she wants to speak to an attorney prior to speaking to law enforcement. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that an invocation of Miranda is sufficient if a reasonable officer would understand it to be a request for a lawyer.

It is not sufficient in most circumstances, therefore, for an individual to make ambiguous statements about his or her desire to speak with a lawyer, nor is it sufficient for the individual to say that he or she plans to later invoke Miranda. Once the individual has conveyed a present intention to invoke Miranda, all questioning must cease. Police interrogators are skilled at parsing the statements of individuals and may not cease questioning unless the statement is a clear invocation.

In a case where police questioning continues after the invocation of Miranda rights, any statements made will be inadmissible in criminal proceedings against the individual. A person who has been charged with a crime in California may want to speak to an attorney. An attorney with experience in criminal defense may be able to help by examining the facts of the case, deposing witnesses and gathering evidence.

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