You have the right to remain silent

  • Published
  • By 4th Fighter Wing Office of the Staff Judge Advocate
  • 4th Fighter Wing Office of the Staff Judge Advocate

Hollywood has popularized the phrase “You have the right to remain silent,” but where does this phrase come from and what does it actually mean?

Law Day, designated as May 1, is a national day to celebrate the law and its contributions to the freedoms Americans enjoy.  Lawyers throughout the country plan Law Day events and programs according to a specific theme.  The American Bar Association selects a theme each year for Law Day events.  This year’s theme was, “Miranda: More Than Words,” and “You have the right to remain silent” is part of the Miranda rights.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Miranda rights, which are a product of Miranda v. Arizona.  This case was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in June 1966.  Even though the Miranda rights provide protections for military members, Airmen have additional protections with Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  This UCMJ article dictates the rights of military members surrounding confessions.  The Article 31 rights, which apply only to persons subject to the UCMJ, became effective 16 years before the Miranda decision. 

In fact, Article 31 rights are even referenced by the Supreme Court in its Miranda opinion, “ . . . [I]n our country the [UCMJ] has long provided that no suspect may be interrogated without first being warned of his right not to make a statement and that any statement he makes may be used against him.”  It goes on to say that, “[t]here appears to have been no marked detrimental effect on criminal law enforcement in [this jurisdiction] as a result of these rules.”

An Airman must be advised of his or her Article 31 rights when that Airman is suspected of a criminal offense and he or she is being interrogated as part of an official law enforcement investigation or disciplinary inquiry.  Commanders, first sergeants, and military supervisors are presumed to be acting in a disciplinary capacity when questioning a subordinate.  The Article 31 rights include the general nature of the suspected offense, the suspect’s right to remain silent, the consequences of making a statement, and the right to legal counsel.

The legal office was busy during the month of May as they celebrated Law Day throughout the entire month.  First, they played Jeopardy at the Youth Center with a theme of Miranda rights and the legal system.  They hosted a breakfast for the first sergeants, which included refresher training on Article 31 rights.  Finally, they visited the 4th Security Forces Squadron and handed out candy and flyers about Miranda and Article 31 rights.

Be on the lookout for next year’s Law Day theme and how your legal office will celebrate!