At Trial, Prosecution Cannot Question a Defendant’s Right to Silence

14-2-3453 State v. Irizarry, N.J. Super. App. Div. (per curiam) (29 pp.)

Published by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

A defendant’s right to remain silent during a police interrogation is an integral part of our criminal justice system, granted by our Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This right gives protection for a defendant against self incrimination.  If a suspect does not wish to speak to the police during an interrogation, he or she cannot be forced to do so.

A recent case analyzed this very issue, as to whether a prosecutor can impeach a defendant at trial with evidence that the defendant remained silent during an interrogation, which contradicted an earlier statement.  In the case, there were two completely different accounts of the story given by the defendant and the alleged victim.  The victim claimed she had been forcibly raped by the defendant at knife point.  The defendant claimed he had consensual sexual intercourse with the victim.

When the police first took accounts of what happened, the defendant supplied the story that the victim had sex with him in exchange for drugs.  At a later interrogation, the defendant refused to speak at all, and denied his earlier account of the story regarding the sex for drugs.  At trial, the defendant decided to take the stand since the case hinged on two different stories.  During cross examination, the prosecutor attempted to attack the defendant’s credibility by showing he denied the events during the interrogation even though he gave a different story earlier.

The Court ruled that this was improper evidence, as the prosecutor cannot use a defendant’s right to remain silent against him at Trial.  This was a serious enough error to warrant a new trial for the defendant.

Be sure to hire an experienced attorney that will defendant your rights as a citizen, and who understands each and every part of the criminal justice system!

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