If you are confronted by the police, you should remember that you do not have to say anything to the officers. You should always be polite and respectful but you don’t have to wonder “Should I talk to police if I’m stopped for questioning?”
As outlined below, most people have a legal right to refuse to speak with officers. However, there is an old saying that if you want to get out of a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. Refusing to speak to an officer makes a bad situation worse.
One thing is certain. If you are charged with a crime, regardless of the circumstances, you need legal representation. All criminal offenses in New York, both misdemeanors and felonies, have substantial direct and indirect consequences. Only an experienced attorney knows how to reduce or eliminate these consequences.
Most people know that the Fifth Amendment allows them to remain silent. Most people do not know that this right kicks in when custodial interrogation begins. 1
“Custody” means the suspect does not feel free to leave. Many motorists do not feel free to leave when they see flashing lights in the rearview mirror. They certainly do not feel free to leave when an officer arrives at the driver’s side window. “Interrogation” means asking questions that might or might not be related to the suspected offense.
The Fifth Amendment also contains a physical element. It includes the right to refuse to do things like perform field sobriety tests, pose for pictures, or appear in a lineup.
That being said, the Fifth Amendment is not absolute. Everyone must identify themselves to police officers, at least verbally, if officers have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Reasonable suspicion is basically an evidence-based hunch. Additionally, everyone must comply with basic commands like “step out of the car” or “stay in the car.” Failure to do so could result in an obstruction charge.
How Should I Talk to Police?
Especially in traffic stops, comply now and complain later is a good rule of thumb. News reports are full of police encounters that end very badly for suspects. Yes, these officers are accountable for their actions, but we should not escalate the situation with unnecessary pushback.
Comply by pulling over at the first opportunity, turning off the engine, turning on your dome light, and placing your hands on the steering wheel at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. Also comply by clearly answering direct questions.
The compliance rule is obviously not absolute. Never do anything that makes you uncomfortable. And never answer questions that are obviously investigatory (e.g. “have you been drinking?” or “do you know this individual?”).
Complain through your attorney. Most people have no problem remembering details of traumatic events like detentions and arrests. Convey all these details to your attorney, even if they seem insignificant.
DUI roadside checkpoints are a good example. Always pull over if officers direct you to do so. Also, remember items like the approximate number of traffic cones and the precise wording on a sign. Minor details like these could legally invalidate the checkpoint. DUI roadblock signs must convey certain information and the checkpoint must meet certain special specifications.
Reach Out to a Dedicated Attorney
You should talk to police when you’re stopped, but you should also know when to stop talking. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Rochester, contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi. Convenient payment plans are available.