Civil Rights Law

Do You Ever Need To Answer a Police Officer's Questions?

You may have been stopped in the past for a traffic violation and remember a police officer asking: “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Maybe you watched a TV show where unrelenting detectives have a suspect cornered in a dismal, cramped conference room and badger them into confessing, despite informing them they “have the right to remain silent.”

When does an officer have to advise you of your right to remain silent? And what rights can you assert to protect yourself from police questioning?

How Does the Law Define Being ‘In Custody’?

According to the United States Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, officers are only required to give you a “Miranda warning” of your right to remain silent if you are considered in legal terms to be ” in custody” and when the police have “initiated the interrogation.”

But being “in custody” means more than just under arrest. It also means any time when a reasonable person feels like their freedom to move has been restricted.

Some examples where courts have found that an individual is “in custody” include:

  • Having multiple police officers surround your vehicle and displaying weapons
  • Having a police officer take your keys or phone, or other actions that made you feel like you couldn’t leave
  • Officers using a coercive tone and trying to conduct lengthy questioning

What Types of Statements Are Not Protected Under the Fifth Amendment?

You should also know that the Fifth Amendment doesn’t protect voluntary or spontaneous statements. So, if you are pulled over, and you start making spontaneous statements related to an alleged crime, you are not protected.

You may be able to argue that your unwarned statement should not come into evidence if you can show that multiple “in custody” factors were present. Or you could also try showing that the officer’s questions went beyond the scope of what the police officer had a basis to stop you for in the first place.

If a police officer was required but did not warn you of your Miranda rights prior to questioning you, it does not necessarily mean that all of your charges will be dismissed. It just means that the prosecutor may not admit your statement into evidence at your criminal trial.

It’s also important to remember who you are talking to at the scene of a crime or accident. Generally, private citizens are not required to give Miranda warnings. These people could be called to testify against you later.

What To Do When You’re Approached on the Street

If you are a witness to a crime or a potential suspect, officers may want to ask you questions on the street at the scene.

A police officer in this setting may not have to advise you of your rights before or during questioning. It really depends on if other factors existed in your situation that would leave a reasonable person feeling like they were not able to leave the police encounter.

But even if officers don’t have to give you a Miranda warning, you can still refuse to answer their questions or state that you won’t talk until you’ve talked with a criminal defense lawyer. However, if you are stopped, you usually cannot run away from an officer; doing so could lead to your arrest.

Generally, a police officer can ask to see identification when investigating your safety, a potential crime, or a traffic violation. Giving a false name can lead to criminal charges.

What To Do When You’re Pulled Over

If you’re pulled over for a traffic violation, driving drunk, or any other reason, you don’t need to answer questions either.

However, because driving without a license, registration, or insurance is a crime, cops may ask to see all of these, and you must comply.

What To Do When You’re Detained in School

It is also important to let your children understand that they also have a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent at school and if a school resource officer is questioning them that they should ask for an attorney and a family member to be present.

What To Do When You’re Called in for Police Questioning

If police officers ask you to come to the police station to answer some questions, it is important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney first. You typically can refuse to go in for a police interview, and always can require that a criminal defense attorney be present with you when the officers question you.

It is also important to note that even if you initially started providing information, you can always assert your right to remain silent or request an attorney at any time during a police interview. If a police officer doesn’t respect this request, your statements from that point on may be able to be kept out of evidence at your trial.

What To Do When You’re Under Arrest

Even if you’ve been arrested, you can refuse to answer police questions. In this case, police officers must provide you with a Miranda warning before questioning you and remind you of your right to remain silent and to talk to a lawyer.

Be careful! The rules regarding warnings and being “in custody” still apply. If no official police questioning has begun, officers may wait to advise you of your constitutional rights to see if you start talking and hurt your case.

Courts have ruled that you must clearly and affirmatively assert your right to remain silent and/or right to have an attorney present to stop an officer’s questioning. Merely keeping your mouth shut won’t cut it. And giving false information is still a crime.

Seek out a criminal defense attorney to help you understand how to protect your constitutional rights if the police want to talk to you. If you and your criminal defense lawyer decide to answer questions, don’t talk to police without your lawyer there.

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