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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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Last Modified: 04-11-2014 04:08 PM PDT

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