The Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the United States Constitution afford every citizen with certain fundamental rights, including the right to remain silent and assert one’s privilege against self-incrimination. Just about everyone has heard of that right, but believe it or not, many people charged with a crime either don’t exercise it, or don’t properly assert.
The United States Constitution states that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Accordingly, every person subjected to a custodial interrogation must be warned that he (1) has a right to remain silent; (2) any statement he makes can be used as evidence against him; (3) that he has a right to consult with an attorney and that if he cannot afford one one will be appointed; and (4) that if he does choose to speak, that he has a right to stop questioning at any time. Once these warnings are provided, a defendant’s subsequent statements are only admissible as evidence against him at trial if the government shows, by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant gave a knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver of those rights.
Against this backdrop, it’s not enough to just tell the police that you “might” want to speak with a lawyer or are “considering” consulting with an attorney. Police are only required to stop questioning upon a clear and unambiguous request for counsel. In other words, the invocation of the right to an attorney must be sufficiently clear that the police officer understands the statement to be a request for a lawyer.
Yes, it may appear all too simple to simply say “No more questions, I would like to speak to a lawyer at this time” or words to that effect, but all too often that is not case. Whether because of duress of the circumstances and being under interrogation; the person’s lack of knowledge or experience in the justice system or mere ignorance, it is all too common to see people who did really want to consult with a lawyer but unfortunately didn’t properly assert their request so that the police stopped questioning them.
In fact, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has considered a wide variety of circumstances where the person’s request for an attorney was too “ambiguous”, thereby ruling that the request to stop questioning was sufficient. For example, the statement to police “I might need a lawyer and want to talk with him before talking to you” was held not to be a proper invocation of the right to counsel.
Accordingly, persons who find themselves in police custody and subject to an interrogation should unambiguously and clearly invoke their right to counsel and to remain silent by stating “I do not want to answer any questions until I first speak with a lawyer.”
Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Criminal Charges.
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