Lawyers are taught and trained to stop or keep their clients from speaking if they are involved in a criminal case, particularly if they are considered suspects and more so if they are the respondents or the accused.
“Invoke your right against self-crimination” or “talk to my lawyer” is what would usually be advised of clients. Hence, you see a lot of the first one in public investigations when incriminatory questions are being asked of respondents. Meanwhile, you hear the second one as a general response to anyone who is asking, such as the media or investigators.
There is a very important reason why clients are prohibited by their lawyers from answering questions outside the courtroom. It’s that line in the Miranda warning which goes “anything you do or say may be used against you in a court of law.”
When you do or say something, it can be taken out of context.
That is how innocent people go to jail. In the process of trying to prove one’s innocence, many tend to overshare. This means giving more information than what is necessary or accurate.
Let me illustrate:
- Let’s say, there’s a murder in Makati City.
- The investigator approaches you to get some information.
- You get asked about your whereabouts on a given date and time. You reply that you were in Makati City around 11:00 pm about to go home from an event.
- Then, you are asked if you know a certain person after being given a description. You reply you know the person and say that you two were never close because you never liked him.
- You get asked why you never liked him. You reply that the person has never been nice to you and always embarrassed you in front of your friends.
- You are then informed that the person died the night before. You get asked if you know anything about it.
- Caught off guard, and realizing the negative things you said about the person, you don’t want the investigator to misunderstand you. To prove your innocence, with your most serious face and looking directly at the investigator without blinking, you quickly replied that you did not kill the person and that you would never stab the person.
- With your reply, the investigator looks at you as well and in a serious manner, and then tells you that the rumors circulating in the news and social media that the victim as killed by a gunshot was not correct. That while there were gunshots, the victim was killed due to a stab wound and such information has been withheld from the public.
Just like that, from an ordinary person, you became a suspect:
- Opportunity – you were in the same city when the murder happened.
- Motive – you “never liked the person” because the person was “never nice to you” and has “always embarrassed you in front of your friends”.
- Means – you knew of the stabbing as the cause of death even if that information was withheld from the public.
If you become charged as the accused, you will keep hearing those repeated several times to you in the courtroom. With a few more evidence introduced, such as any prior fights with the victim, you gravely realize that all arrows point to you as the person who likely committed the crime.
But, you are innocent. You shout it out with all your energy and spirit that you did not commit the crime, that there is an injustice going one, and so on, and so forth.
Unfortunately, you are not the first one to undergo a meltdown. Many who have come before you have also shouted their innocence. However, the justice system is not based on a person’s claim of innocence. Instead, the system is based and operates on evidence. One of the strongest pieces of evidence happens to be admission, whether unintentional or otherwise.
The right against self-incrimination aims to protect innocent persons against stupid remarks that might land them in hot water. After all, many people are not that discerning of the impact of what they do and say. Hence, the law itself gives them the right and opportunity to keep their silence.