Police Questioning before an Arrest

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Most Common Defense and Criminal Law Issues

Do I Have to Answer Questions from the Police If I Am Not under Arrest?

No. The 5th Amendment of the Constitution protects you from self-incrimination. This means that you have the right to refuse to answer questions a police officer asks you. Usually, you cannot be arrested for refusing to answer questions.

What Are My Rights When Questioned by Police?

When questioned by the police, you have the right to remain silent. So, you don’t have to answer any questions if you are under arrest.

If you do decide to speak to the police, the statements can be used against you in a court of law. You may stop answering at any time and all questioning by police must stop as well. You have the right to have your attorney present if you decide to answer any questions. The request to have an attorney present must be clear and direct.

Note that, if you are not being arrested, it is usually in your best interest to answer the officer’s routine questions.

When Do I Have to Provide Some Information to the Police?

While the general rule is that you don't have to respond to questions from the police, there are some situations where you may be required to provide certain information or answer certain questions.

In many states, if the police see you loitering (usually defined as wandering around with no apparent business, such that you pose a threat to public safety), the police are allowed to ask you for identification and an explanation of what you're doing. Also, while refusal to answer questions is not a crime (refusal to present identification when suspected of a traffic offense can be a crime.

What Are Miranda Warnings?

When making an arrest, police are required to give the Miranda warning, which advises people of their rights under the constitution.

Even if you are not under arrest, you do not have to answer any question. However, if a police stops you and asks for identification, it is probably your best interest to cooperate and provide such information.

Miranda warnings are only required when you are in custody and are being interrogated. Custody does not necessarily mean under arrest, but rather the person is in a stage where he believes he is not free to leave. The questions must also be types of questions that will elicit an incriminating response.

Do the Police Need to "Read Me My Rights" in Order to Question Me?

No. If you have not been arrested the police do not have to read you your rights. The rights referred to are you Miranda Rights. These rights are intended to inform people of their right to remain silent and their right to have an attorney present if they talk to the police. You only need to be read your Miranda Rights if you are in police custody.

If it is clear that you are not and were not involved in any criminal activity and you wish to help the police, it is fine if you answer questions the police ask. But, if you believe the police suspect you of committing a crime or even if you are not sure whether you are a suspect, the best thing to do is remain silent or tell the police you don't want to say anything without first consulting an attorney. The danger of answering questions is that people often reveal information that can be used against them later without even knowing it.

Can the Police Stop Me and Question Me?

Even if the officer is mistaken, you do not have the right to keep walking. As long as the officer has a good faith belief in your connection to criminal activity, he is allowed to detain you. Even after the stop you do not have to answer any incriminating questions.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Depending on the circumstances, a qualified criminal defense attorney may be appropriate. If you merely witnessed a crime and it is clear you were not involved, you may not need an attorney. But, if you are a suspect or believe you are a suspect, an experience criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights and help you understand the complicated criminal justice system.

Police are allowed to stop you for questioning if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that you are engaged in criminal activity. If the police officer feels that he is in any danger, he is allowed to pat you down in order to search for weapons. This whole process is called a "stop and frisk." Running from the police is enough of a reason for a "stop and frisk." Also, while the "frisk" is limited, it can lead to a full blown search which can then lead to an arrest.

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Last Modified: 01-20-2015 04:52 PM PST

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