Regardless of whether you have been arrested, imprisoned, detained, or simply feel as if you cannot walk away from a police officer, you generally do not have to answer any questions that the police are asking you.
According to the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself in any criminal case.” In other words, the Fifth Amendment protects U.S. citizens from self-incrimination. As such, it gives you the right to refuse to answer questions that a police officer asks you.
However, there are two exceptions to this rule. Although you do not need to answer any further questions asked in either scenario, in some states you will have to provide your name to law enforcement if they request that you identify yourself. The other time you will need to respond is if you are pulled over for a traffic violation and the police ask to see your license, registration, and so on.
Apart from these two exceptions, you also normally cannot be arrested or punished for refusing to answer their questions. Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where you are being questioned by law enforcement, such as while in detainment or after an arrest, then you should contact a lawyer immediately before agreeing to respond.
What Rights Does One Have When Being Questioned by the Police?
As discussed above, U.S. citizens have a constitutional right to remain silent when they are being questioned by law enforcement officers. This includes even if a person is under arrest. In fact, it is generally recommended that the person has a lawyer present while responding to police inquiries after an arrest.
On the other hand, if a person does decide to answer a police officer’s questions, then any of the statements that they make in response can be used against them in a court of law. Also, the person may stop answering questions at any time, which means that all questioning by police must cease as well.
In addition, an individual has a right to have their attorney present if they do decide to answer any questions. If they decide to exercise this right, then their request for an attorney must be made in a clear and direct manner.
Although the choice belongs to the individual being questioned, it may be in their best interest to answer a police officer’s routine questions if they are not in danger of being arrested.
When Do I Have to Provide Some Information to the Police?
As previously mentioned, there are certain situations where an individual may be required to provide particular information or answer specific questions.
One of those scenarios is when the police have reasonable suspicion that a person either is or is about to be participating in some kind of criminal activity.
For example, in many states it is often the case that if the police see a person wandering aimless with no apparent direction and in way that poses a threat to the public (i.e., loitering), then they are allowed to ask the supposed loiterer for their identification as well as an explanation of what they are doing.
The laws that govern this exception are known as “stop and identify” laws. Currently, these laws have been adopted by approximately 24 states.
Lastly, while declining to answer questions is generally not considered a crime, refusing to provide identification when pulled over due to a traffic violation can be a crime.
What are Miranda Warnings?
Law enforcement officers are legally required to give an individual being arrested certain statements that are known as “Miranda warnings.” The purpose of these warnings is to advise arrested persons of their rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Similar to what is presented in popular entertainment, Miranda warnings generally include some version of the following statements:
- An arrestee has the right to remain silent;
- If they choose to say something, then that statement can be used against them in court;
- They have a right to have a lawyer and that right extends to having a lawyer present during questioning; and
- If they cannot afford a lawyer, the state will appoint one for them.
It is important to note that Miranda warnings are only required when a person is in custody or is being interrogated. The term custody, however, does not necessarily mean that the person is under arrest, but rather that the person is in a situation where they believe that they are not free to leave.
Do the Police Have to “Read Me My Rights” in Order to Question Me?
If a person has not been arrested or is not placed in a custodial type of environment, then the police are not required to read them their rights. In contrast, if a person has been arrested or is in police custody, then the police are required to read them their rights.
The phrase, “read me my rights”, refers to those mentioned in the Miranda warnings. These rights are intended to inform the public of their constitutional right to remain silent and their right to have an attorney present if they talk to the police.
When a person is absolutely certain that they either are not or were not involved in any criminal activities and if they decide they want to help the police, then they are free to answer any questions that the police ask.
On the other hand, if the person thinks they are a suspect or they believe that the police suspect that they have committed a crime, then it would be in their best interest to remain silent or to tell the police that they refuse to say anything without consulting an attorney first.
The danger with answering law enforcement questions is that people often reveal information that can be used against them later in court without them even realizing it.
Can the Police Stop Me and Question Me?
The police can stop and question anyone who they have a good faith belief are connected to criminal activity. Moreover, they also can detain them and pat them down for weapons if the officer feels they are in danger.
This entire process is called a “stop and frisk” or a “Terry stop.” Running from the police will provide them a sufficient enough reason to “stop and frisk” someone. Also, while the pat down part of the stop may be limited, if the police find any contraband, then it can lead to a full blown search and arrest.
Even if the officers are mistaken, an individual does not have a right to keep walking and ignoring them. While they may need to give the police their name and possibly some form of identification, they do not have to answer any incriminating questions.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Police Issues?
Depending on the circumstances of your situation, it may be necessary to hire a lawyer. If you were merely a witness to a crime and it is more than clear that you were not involved in any way, then you may not need an attorney.
However, if you are a suspect or believe the police think you are a suspect, an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area can advise you of your rights and help you understand the complexities of the criminal justice system as well as your case.