If you are suspected of committing a crime – whether you did it or not – you have certain rights that should always be protected.  Even something as simple as being pulled over by the police can count as a “criminal investigation,” and it is important to know your rights.  It is also important to contact a lawyer and get help keeping those rights protected.  The Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain some of the most fundamental rights that you have during an investigation.

The Right to Remain Silent in NJ

The “right to remain silent” is a lot more confusing and complex than most people expect.  First of all, there is the right to remain free from self-incrimination, which is contained in the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Many people call using this right “pleading the 5th.”  This is actually a right at trial that prevents you from testifying against yourself and makes testifying in your own defense optional.  It also allows you not to give testimony on subjects that might incriminate you.

This right is also extended to criminal investigations.  Along with other “Miranda rights,” the right to remain silent kicks in during a “custodial interrogation.”  This means that after you have been arrested and police are questioning you while you are in custody, you have the absolute right to remain silent.  You can use this right to refuse to answer questions, and the fact that you’re refusing to answer questions cannot be used against you in court.  However, this only applies when you are in custody and are under interrogation.

If you are in custody but police have not asked you any questions, the right to remain silent does not kick in, and police do not need to warn you about it.  Similarly, if you have not been arrested, police do not need to warn you about your right to remain silent, and the fact that you refused to answer questions might still be used against you.  For instance, if a cop pulls you over under suspicion of drunk driving and says, “You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?” most people would deny it if they weren’t drinking.  If you do not deny it, the officer could later tell a jury that you didn’t deny it, which might make them think you were indeed driving under the influence.

Because this right is quite complex and confusing, it is often better to use your right to an attorney instead.

The Right to An Attorney in NJ

One of the other Miranda rights is the right to an attorney.  Most people who watch cop shows can probably recite these rights: the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to have an attorney provided for you if you can’t afford one.  The right to an attorney is not absolutely guaranteed before arrest, but it is guaranteed while you are in custody and during a trial or other hearing against you.

If you’ve already been arrested, the right to an attorney is a bit stronger than the right to remain silent.  If police are asking you questions about a particular investigation and you use your right to remain silent, they must stop asking you questions about that subject – but they can keep asking about other potential crimes or other topics.  If you activate your right to an attorney, they must stop all interrogations and wait until you have a lawyer present.

When you request that an attorney be present, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get an attorney of your choice.  If you can afford a lawyer, call one.  Our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers can visit jails and come to represent you during an investigation if you would like to call us.  Typically, this means you will have to wait until your lawyer can get there and stay in custody until they arrive.  However, if you cannot afford a lawyer, a public defender might be appointed to your case, and questioning will be allowed to continue once they arrive.

You do not technically have the right to have an attorney present before an arrest.  This means that if you were stopped or pulled over by a police officer for a traffic offense, you cannot stop their questioning while you wait for an attorney.  However, you could say that your attorney advised you not to answer any questions without them present.  This is often a much better response for the record than an outright refusal to answer police questions or literal silence.

Moreover, there are other specific issues during an investigation where the law might specifically say that you do not have the right to discuss your case with a lawyer first.  One such issue occurs during DWI investigations where you do not have the right to consult with a lawyer before a blood or breath test.  Refusing a DWI test in New Jersey can lead to severe penalties, but the law does not give you a chance to wait and talk to a lawyer because police need the blood sample promptly.

Warrant Requirements in New Jersey

If you are being investigated for a crime, police might want to search you, your personal effects, your car, your house, or other places.  In most cases, police officers need a warrant to do this.  There are some exceptions, such as if the search is limited to a pat-down for officer safety, if the property is moveable (such as a car), or if police are chasing you after witnessing a crime.  This can allow police to search some places and enter some locations without probable cause or without a warrant.

If these exceptions do not apply, police typically need a warrant for a search or an arrest.  This means that if a police officer asks to search your home or other property, you have the right to say no and ask them to come back with a warrant.  If they perform the search anyway, it likely means that they think they have some legal justification.  If they actually didn’t have legal justification for the search, we might be able to get any evidence taken through illegal search and seizure thrown out at trial.

Fighting Civil Rights Violations During Criminal Investigations in New Jersey

If you were under investigation for a crime and a police officer entered your home without a warrant, refused to let you speak with a lawyer, or otherwise committed acts of illegal search and seizure or other civil rights abuses, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today.  Our attorneys might be able to get evidence suppressed and thrown out to help fight your case and make it harder for the government to prove you did anything wrong.  For a free legal consultation on your case, call our NJ criminal defense lawyers today at (609) 616-4956.