Any interaction with police, no matter how casual, may produce evidence against you. It is very important to understand this whenever you speak with police to help you watch what you say and avoid potentially life-altering consequences.
While not all police are attempting to charge with a person with a crime in every interaction, anything that you say to an officer may count against you as evidence, whether you are under official questioning, under arrest, or just a traffic or street stop. Keeping this in mind, you can more easily navigate your conversations with police and know when to keep your mouth shut (spoiler: It’s most of the time).
Police questions that you must answer
Under the United States constitution, the Fifth Amendment guarantees you the right to remain silent and avoid incriminating yourself if you choose to do so. However, there is an exception. In almost all police interactions, a police officer may ask you for your name and identification, which you generally must provide. Once you tell the officer your name and show him or her a form of identification (If you have one), then you may generally refuse to answer any further questions, at least legally speaking.
In many cases, refusing to answer police questioning may lead to further police action, but the less information you give, the less evidence the police can collect against you, strengthening your defense when it comes time to build it.
Refusing to answer without guidance
Beyond offering your name, you do not have to answer any more questions, at least not in most cases. However, police may still try and drag more information out of you. If you reach a point when you no longer want to answer questions, you may always simply tell the officer that you don’t want to discuss the matter further without your attorney present.
This is a perfectly valid response, but police may not always respect it the way you hope. In many instances, they still want something out of you, and may continue to prod, or may threaten you or even charge you with a crime and arrest you. While these are not preferable turns of events, the less you say during the interaction, the better.
Police often use methods that are technically within the law but that rely on the ignorance of the people they question. For instance, police may ask you to come down to the station for questioning. While it may seem like a heavy matter with the strength of law enforcement behind it, it is still a request.
You have the right to simply refuse to submit to questioning, as long as you are not under arrest. Once police do place you under arrest, if you didn’t need legal representation before, you do now. When the questions start coming, you must protect your rights as soon as you can and simply tell them that you don’t want to answer any more questions without your attorney.
Don’t underestimate how important it is to protect your own rights. Be sure to use the legal resources within reach to keep yourself and your rights secure, no matter how serious or trivial your interaction with law enforcement.