On television and in the movies, police escort a suspect into a blank room with nothing but a table, a couple of chairs and a two-way mirror. They sit him or her down and begin the questioning. They use “good cop, bad cop” style interrogations or lay out the alleged evidence against them. Inevitably, the suspect either begins to talk or says nothing and asks for a lawyer.

This is the impression that most people have of how the process works. An individual is taken into custody, read is or her Miranda Rights and taken to the station for questioning. The problem is that this is often an oversimplification of what happens in real life.

Be careful what you say when police arrive

In reality, many people do quite a bit of talking before police place them under arrest. You may not realize that any statements made by you to police as soon as you come into contact with them may be used against you in court. Don’t wait until police arrest you and take you into custody before you guard what you say. You need to provide basic identification information, but that’s about all you are obligated to say.

Police only need to give you a Miranda warning if you are placed in custody and under interrogation. In the absence of these two requirements, an officer does not have to warn you that you may remain silent and ask for an attorney.

How do you know if you are in police custody?

Most courts agree that you are considered in police custody when an officer places you under arrest. The more general definition includes any time a police officer denies you the right to leave, such as when an officer stops you to ask questions or during a traffic stop, but most of the time, this does not meet the definition, which means you don’t receive a Miranda warning.

Even when you aren’t under arrest, you may want to be aware that a police officer may suspect you of committing a crime. Therefore, it may be best not to say anything other than to identify yourself. Instead, remain calm and polite, but if you think the officer suspects you of committing a crime, you don’t have to say anything else.

The right to remain silent

You may not realize that in order to invoke your right to remain silent, you have to say so. Simply not talking is not enough. You need to make it clear to officers that you are invoking your right to remain silent. Be careful not to use words that could be misconstrued, such as “may,” “perhaps” or “maybe.” Instead, make an affirmative statement. The only other thing you may want to say is that you would like to speak to an attorney.