Most people don’t have frequent interactions with law enforcement, so being questioned by a police officer or being pulled over can be a nerve-wracking experience. Sometimes that can lead a person to be overly friendly and talkative to make themselves relax or seem more compliant.
While the majority of police officers are just trying to do their jobs, it is crucial to know your rights and what you should and shouldn’t do when talking to police.
What to Know about Police Authority
Police officers use a variety of techniques to get people to open up. These tactics include having casual conversation to make you think they are your friend, playing the “good cop” / “bad cop” approach, periods of isolation, and saying that they have some kind of evidence or witness against you.
It is important to remember that cops can lie. Also keep in mind that officers can make recommendations on your charges but the prosecutor is the one who actually charges you, so police don’t have any authority to offer you a deal if you cooperate.
Contrary to what we are led to believe based on television shows and movies, police do not have to read your Miranda Rights (the ones that say, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”) in order to use anything you say against you. They must issue the warning if you are arrested, but if you answer questions or make statements beforehand, whatever you say can still be used in court.
Police also do not have to say whether someone is under investigation for a crime or a suspect in a case.
Police may pat down your clothing if they suspect a concealed weapon. Do not physically resist, but make it clear that you do not consent to any further search.
What to Know About Your Rights
During motor vehicle stops, you are obligated to show your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. If you are caught doing something suspicious, such as breaking into your own car because you locked your keys inside, you are required to tell an officer your name and what you’re doing at that moment. Beyond this, you do not have to talk to police and should not talk to law enforcement without a lawyer present.
You have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. If the police want to question you, invoke these rights immediately.
It is very important that you say, “I am invoking my right to remain silent and I want a lawyer” instead of just being quiet. The need to verbalize that you are invoking your 5th Amendment right is due to the 2010 Supreme Court case of Berghuis v. Thompkins.
Do not interfere with police and obstruct their investigation. You can be arrested for lying to a police officer. However you do not have to talk to the police, and the fact that you decline to talk to the police cannot be later used against you, as long as you’ve properly invoked your right to remain silent.
Ask if you are under arrest. If you are, you have a right to know why.
Key Pointers to Remember
–Remain calm and polite. Avoid arguing, threatening, and insulting police officers.
–Think carefully about your words, movement, body language, and emotions.
–Always keep your hands where the officer can see them, such as on the steering wheel if you are in the car, and tell them if you are reaching for anything.
–Do not run, touch a police officer, or resist arrest even if you are innocent.
–Anything you say can and will be used against you. Invoke your right to remain silent and verbalize this.
–Ask for a lawyer. Even if you cannot afford one, you have the right to a free lawyer.
–Don’t tell the police anything besides what is required until your lawyer is present.
–Document anything you can remember such as location, times, officers’ names, etc. Write down details as soon as you can. Try to identify witnesses to help you and obtain their contact information in case they are able to help your case.
–If you are injured, seek medical treatment and take photos of the injuries.
–Do not make any decisions in your case until you have discussed everything thoroughly with a lawyer.