Protecting Your Right to Remain Silent in Maryland, Especially When There’s a Language Barrier Involved

Here in Maryland, our state constitution and the U.S. constitution give everyone certain rights. As you may already know, especially if you watch all of those TV police shows, you have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer the police’s questions. What happens, though, when you’re advised of your rights in a language that is not your native one? Depending on the exact circumstances, this evidence may be critical in getting certain incriminating statements you made to the police excluded from your trial. Whether or not you speak English, make sure you have someone ready to speak for you. In other words, be sure you have the services of a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney.

J.S. was one of those people where a language barrier was an issue. In J.S.’s criminal case, the police found drugs inside the man’s home. They charged J.S. with possession of cocaine and other related crimes.

The police transported J.S. to the station house, where a detective questioned him. During that interrogation, J.S. stated with regard to the drugs: “It’s only my problem. My wife is nothing to do with it.”

In some cases, that could have been a devastating error. Making a voluntary statement to the police and saying things that incriminate you can sometimes do irreparable harm to your defense. That’s why it is always best to seek legal counsel before saying anything to law enforcement.

However, even if you’ve made that misstep, there are potentially still options available to you. There may have been a fatal flaw in the search warrant or, as was the circumstance in J.S.’s case, there may have been a different constitutional problem that can trigger suppression of your statement to the police.

J.S. was able to get his incriminating statement thrown out because the right to remain silent poses a greater burden on law enforcement than simply to recite the words, “You have the right to remain silent” in English, check a box, and then proceed with interrogating that person. The person being interrogated must be meaningfully informed that he has the right to remain silent.

In this case, J.S. was a man whose native language was Portuguese, and whose education stopped in elementary school. His English language skills were “very poor.” The police informed J.S. he could continue with the police interrogation or he could go directly to a commissioner. The man said that he wanted to go directly to a commissioner.

‘Effective communication’ did not occur in informing the accused of his rights

As the Court of Special Appeals pointed out, this was not a clear and unambiguous waiver of the right to remain silent, especially, as was the case here, there was a language issue. As the court said, “We simply do not know for certain what the appellant meant, and no one made any effort to find out. In a bilingual context such as this, this is not effective communication.” It was possible, the appeals court concluded, that by saying “go immediately before the commissioner,” J.S. was indicating he wanted to end the police interrogation and answer no more of the detectives’ questions.

In short, what the state had was insufficient evidence that J.S. meaningfully and unequivocally waived his right to remain silent, so they had an incriminating statement that should have been excluded at trial.

This defendant was fortunate in that he acquired the right legal team and was able to get his incriminating statement suppressed on Fifth Amendment grounds. The best path is to decline to say anything to the police until you’ve spoken with your attorney. For the powerful and effective drug crime defense representation you need, count on the skilled knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. Our attorneys have been helping the accused in Maryland for many years and are ready to get to work for you. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form

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