Are you being investigated for criminal charges? If so, you're likely facing significant questioning from investigators, even if you haven't yet been arrested or named as a suspect. For many individuals who are potentially facing charges, this investigatory period can be confusing.
On one hand, the police may be asking you a lot of questions and you may feel pressure to answer them. On the other hand, you also may not want to incriminate yourself or you may feel that your stress and nerves could cause you to give inaccurate answers. In Canada, you have the right to refuse to answer questions. Here's what you need to know about invoking that right:
You only have the right to silence when you are knowingly speaking with an authority. This is an important distinction. You must know you are speaking with a legal authority to invoke your right to silence. In many cases, it's fairly obvious that you are speaking with an officer or investigator. However, if you were the target of an undercover operation, you may not have realized you were speaking with an authority. In those instances, your words can be held against you. So, if you admitted a crime to an undercover officer, you can't use your right to silence to take that admission back.
The police must notify you of your right to counsel. In order to gain useful information from you, authorities must tell you that you have a right to have counsel present. If an officer says this to you, this is a sign that you are officially a suspect or person of interest in a case. It's also a sign that anything you say after that point can be used against you in court. If you're not advised of your right to counsel, your words can't be admitted as evidence at trial. If you wish to stay silent, tell the officers that you are invoking your right to silence right after they advise you of your right to counsel.
You lose the right to silence when you take the stand. If you go to trial, you can maintain your right to silence by refusing to take the witness stand. However, once you do take the stand, you waive the right to silence. As soon as you are on the stand, counselors from both sides may ask you about anything and your are compelled to answer honestly. You can't change your mind and reclaim your right to silence once you're up there. That's why it's often a tough decision as to whether a defendant should or should not testify on their own behalf.
If you have any questions or concerns about police questioning, you may want to contact a lawyer (such as George Murray Shipley Bell or another practice). The lawyer can sit with you during questioning and help you decide whether or not you should answer questions.