If you are approached by a police officer, you do not have to answer a police officer’s questions. You have a 5th Amendment Constitutional right to remain silent. That means you don’t have to give the police any information that would lead to your arrest or prosecution. It is not a crime to withhold information that would incriminate you. Anything you say to law enforcement can be used against you in court. Exercise your right to remain silent by respectfully and politely saying “I want to remain silent.”
The next best thing to do is tell the officer you will only answer questions with an attorney present. You have a constitutional right to consult with an attorney before answering questions whether or not the police tell you that you have that right. By insisting on an attorney, the police must stop (and most police officers will stop) questions until a lawyer is present.
In real life, most people are nervous when approached and questioned by the police. People feel compelled to cooperate with the police. The next thing to do when approached by the police officer is to politely ask “Am I free to go?” If he or she says ‘yes,’ then calmly walk away. If he or she says ‘no’ then the officer must have reasonable suspicion that you are connected to a crime. At that point do not walk or run from the police. You risk being arrested and charged with resisting arrest. At that point, exercise your right to remain silent.
Can I be Arrested for Refusing to Give Information to the Police?
Generally, refusing to answer a police officer’s questions cannot get you arrested and charged with a crime unless the officer has an arrest warrant or probable cause to believe you committed a crime. You may also be arrested and charged with “obstruction of justice” (commonly known as making a false statement) if you lie to the police, or make a false police report.
Can I Refuse to Identify Myself to the Police?
Some states have what are referred to as “Stop and Identify” laws that require a person suspected of being involved in a crime to provide identification to the police, making refusal to comply a crime. California has no such law on the books and the police cannot arrest someone for refusing to identify themselves or producing identification without just cause.
There is one major exception to the general rule that you do not have to answer questions or identify yourself to the police. If you are driving a car and you are pulled over, you must show your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Immediately after that, you should invoke your right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. If you believe you are being pulled over for a DUI investigation then it is critical that you say nothing to the officer that would incriminate you such as “I only had one drink a few hours ago”; or when asked by the officer “do you know the reason I pulled you over?” and you respond “because I was going over the speed limit?” All these statements will hurt your case and make it hard to defend you in court. That’s why it is important for you to exercise your right to remain silent.
Having said that, we have to be practical and think about the whole police encounter. If you and the police agree that you are totally innocent of any appearance of criminality, then go ahead and answer police questions. Then the whole interview will be over. But if you want to fight it out verbally with the police, then that’s your call. Our advice to our clients is always, “Choose your battles wisely.”
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