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Utah Fifth Amendment Attorney - Salt Lake Criminal Lawyer

Question: Does a witness have the right to remain silent in Utah even if not considered by police to be a suspect?

Answer: The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." Courts have historically interpreted this right as covering more than just actual witness testimony in the courtroom. Instead, the language of the Fifth Amendment is viewed more broadly as creating a general privilege against self incrimination or a "right to remain silent" in connection with any criminal case. These rights apply not only to a person identified by police as the "suspect" or as a "person of interest" in the case. The right to remain silent extends to witnesses as well.

Right to Remain SilentThe right to remain silent applies to witnesses in connection with a police investigation. The right to remain silent also protects witnesses who are called to testify at a trial, preliminary hearing, or other evidentiary hearing in a Utah criminal case. If a witness knows ahead of time that the questions asked in court will affect the witness' privilege against self-incrimination, the witness can notify the court, prosecutor, or defense attorney of his or her intent to assert Fifth Amendment rights. But even if the witness is caught off guard by an unexpected question, the witness may invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege on the witness stand.

If you are the subject of a criminal investigation, or even if you are contacted by police as a potential witness, it is important to understand how your right to remain silent can affect the case. In some cases, talking to police carries risks - even if you are not a "suspect" in the case. Consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney can be the best way to help you make an informed decision as to whether or not you will talk to the police.

Contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation with Utah criminal defense attorney Stephen Howard. Based in Salt lake City, Mr. Howard provides legal services to clients throughout Utah.

Can I be charged with obstruction of justice if I refuse to speak to a police officer?

In most circumstances, a witness cannot be criminally charged with obstruction of justice for refusing to speak to a police officer. The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination provides suspects, persons of interest, and witnesses the right to remain silent. But there are exceptions to this general rule.

Utah Code 76-8-306 sets forth the elements of a criminal charge of obstruction of justice. This statute includes several possible variations of this criminal charge. Two of these variations deal directly with a person's right to speak or not speak to a police officer.

Subsection (1)(i) of Utah Code 76-8-306 provides that a person who conceals information relating to a criminal offense may be charged with obstruction of justice if two conditions are met: first, the information must not be privileged; second, a judge or magistrate must first order the person to provide the information.

Subsection (1)(j) of Utah Code 76-8-306 also provides criminal penalties for obstruction of justice if a person "provides false information" regarding a suspect, witness, "the conduct constituting the offense," or "any other material aspect" of a criminal investigation.

To summarize, a person generally has the right to remain silent when questioned by police in Utah - whether that person is a suspect, a witness, or a criminal defendant formally charged with a crime.  If the person chooses to speak to the police, the person has an obligation to provide truthful information.

Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney in Salt Lake City

Utah Criminal LawyerBased in Salt lake City, criminal defense attorney Stephen Howard provides legal services to clients throughout Utah. He has successfully defended clients in cases ranging from homicide to DUI, and from drug crimes to white collar crime. If you are involved in a criminal case, it is vital to have the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Mr. Howard works closely with each client to develop a defense strategy tailored to fit the facts of each case and the individual needs and circumstances of each client.

Contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation.

RELATED QUESTIONS:
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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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