The Meaning of Silence in the Right to Remain Silent

Janet Ainsworth

in The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199572120
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

The Meaning of Silence in the Right to Remain Silent

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  • Linguistics
  • Forensic Linguistics



The right to remain silent is one of the cardinal principles of criminal jurisprudence in the United States and is probably the single most widely recognized principle of criminal law among members of the general public. The adoptive admission rule can become a particularly dangerous trap for those suspected by the police of involvement in a crime. Because the familiar Miranda warnings communicate the message that citizens have the right to remain silent in the course of a police investigation, it would be reasonable for the lay person to assume that this silence, if chosen, could not later be used against him to imply his guilt. This article examines the meaning of silence in the right to remain silent. It first presents a linguistic view of the meaning of silence and then looks at adoptive admissions, in which silence can be treated as a confession and as evidence of guilt. It concludes by considering adoptive admissions during police questioning.

Keywords: silence; remain silent; Miranda warnings; evidence; criminal law; crime; adoptive admissions; confession; police questioning; guilt

Article.  5749 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Forensic Linguistics

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