In these days of angry rhetoric against immigrants and increased enforcement of immigration laws, it is crucial that immigrants, documented or otherwise, know their rights in California.
One of the most important of these rights is the right to remain silent when detained by law enforcement. This right applies to everyone in U.S. territory, not just U.S. citizens or documented immigrants.
The right to remain silent is sometimes known as one of the “Miranda Rights,” a group of rights that take their name from a famous Supreme Court case. When police arrest a person, they must tell them: You have the right to remain silent; Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law; You have the right to an attorney; If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
Many of us are familiar with this list, after hearing it in television programs about police work. However, few of us think much about what it means unless or until we are detained by police, at a traffic stop, on suspicion of DUI or accused of some other crime.
The Miranda Rights stem from the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees people the right to not make self-incriminating statements. Police commonly read the Miranda rights to a suspect and then continue to try to get the person to talk. If, after hearing the Miranda warning, the suspect talks, he or she is said to have waived their Miranda rights. The police will then take notes or recordings of what the person says, and prosecutors will likely use that as evidence against them in court.
These rights apply to everyone in U.S. territory who is accused of a crime, but they may be particularly important for immigrants. It’s bad enough for anyone to have a criminal conviction on their record, but for an immigrant, it can mean loss of immigration status and even possible deportation.
With all this in mind, it’s crucial for immigrants to remember that if they are arrested, they should ask to speak to a defense attorney right away, and otherwise remain silent. If they have already spoken to police, it is important to talk to an attorney about what they said, and whether the police read them their Miranda rights. An attorney with experience in both immigration law and criminal defense can advise them of their rights and legal options.