We are constantly amazed by how few people understand that the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives them a right against self incrimination.  As a general rule, if you are questioned by the police and you believe they may suspect you of criminal activity (or if you aren’t sure) you should not talk to the police without an attorney present, nor are you under any obligation to talk to the police. Let’s review some basics of that right:

Do you have to Answer Questions from the Police if I am Not under Arrest?

No.  The 5th Amendment of the Constitution protects you from self-incrimination.  This means that you have the right to refuse to answer questions a police officer asks you.  Usually, you cannot be arrested for refusing to answer questions and your refusal to answer police questions cannot be held against you.

Do the Police Need to “Read me my Rights” in Order to Question Me?

No.  If you have not been arrested, then the police do not have to read you your rights.  The rights referred to are you’re Miranda Rights.  These rights are intended to inform people of their right to remain silent and their right to have an attorney present if they talk to the police.  You only need to be read your Miranda Rights if you are in police custody.  “Police custody” is a subjective concept, and usually centers on whether the person being questioned believes that he is free to go or not.

What Should I Do if the Police Question Me without Arresting Me?

If it is clear that you are not and were not involved in any criminal activity and you wish to help the police, it is fine if you answer questions the police ask.  But, if you believe the police suspect you of committing a crime or even if you are not sure whether you are a suspect, the best thing to do is remain silent or tell the police you don’t want to say anything without first consulting an attorney.  The danger of answering questions is that people often reveal information that can be used against them later without even knowing it.

Can the Police Stop Me and Question Me?

Police are allowed to stop you for questioning if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that you are engaged in criminal activity.  If the police officer feels that he is in any danger, he is allowed to pat you down in order to search for weapons.  This process is called a “stop and frisk.”  Running from the police is enough of a reason for a “stop and frisk.”  Also, while the “frisk” is limited, it can lead to a full blown search which can then lead to an arrest.

The Police Have Stopped Me for Questioning.  Do I Need a Lawyer?

Depending on the circumstances, a qualified criminal defense attorney may be appropriate.  If you merely witnesses a crime and it is clear you were not involved, you may not need an attorney.  But, if you are a suspect or believe you are a suspect, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights and help you understand the complicated criminal justice system.