The thoughts of being questioned by the police probably evoke, at the very least, a sense of anxiety and for some a feeling of dread. People are questioned for various reasons; they may or may not be the target of the investigation, but no matter the reason, it’s unnerving. Furthermore, how you handle police questioning will impact the outcome. So, just how should people respond to police questions? Let’s look at four fictional scenarios and the best way to handle each one.
Scenario 1: Jack
Jack had just left the local convenience store and now leaned comfortably against a tree at the city park. As he sipped a hot coffee and glanced at the paper he’d just purchased, a police officer approached him. The police officer smiled and mentioned the weather. Jack nodded, but felt uneasy when the officer lingered and continued with “small talk”. The policeman then asked Jack a more personal question — was he from around these parts? Jack decided not to answer any questions at all and said, “Am I free to go?”
Best way to handle
First of all, why did Jack ask if he was free to go? This is a relevant question, because when a police officer talks to you casually on the street, you are in no way obligated to carry on a conversation with him/her UNLESS the officer is detaining you (see definition below on detaining). Likely, police are gathering information about either 1) a recent crime, 2) a person you know who they are investigating, or 3) you! When you talk to the police under these conditions, anything you say is available for the police to use in a case. Jack handled the situation right. By asking the officer if he was free to go, he was determining whether the police had reason to detain him.
Scenario 2: Esthela
Esthela was at home when the telephone rang. “Mrs. Condelez,” the voice said on the other end. At first, Esthela thought something was wrong with her son, Kent. He was 19 years old and had gotten into trouble lately hanging out with the wrong crowd. The person on the other end continued, “This is officer Brett and we would like you to come down to the station for a statement regarding your son”. Esthela thought this was a requirement and promptly met with the officer.
Best way to handle
When a police officer calls you at your residence requesting a statement, it’s because there’s an investigation and they need evidence, which they hope you will provide. If you comply, there’s a good chance you’ll be incriminating yourself or someone else. How can this happen? Your words can be taken out of context, turned around, or misunderstood; you may provide them with just the information they lack! Contacting an attorney immediately will protect you. Attorneys know the law and are experienced in dealing with legal matters.
Scenario 3: Jon
Jon was pulled over by two police officers on his way home from work and detained. The first police officer who approached his vehicle told him in a commanding voice to step out of the car with his hands in view. Jon carefully removed himself from the vehicle, making sure his hands were visible to the officers. After looking at his license and other necessary documents and seeing they were in order, the female officer asked how long he had owned the car. Jon opened his mouth to say he’d bought it just last week, but instead said these words, “I wish to remain silent.”
Best way to handle
Why did Jon feel the need to invoke what’s known as his Miranda rights? First, let’s look at the legal meaning of “detained by police”.
- When police detain you, they stop you from moving and keep you in a place.
- Police must have reasonable suspicion to detain you about a matter.
- Police must use words, tone, or other means to indicate you are being detained.
- While detained, police may pat you down for weapons.
- Police may search your vehicle IF they have reasonable suspicion of finding something. They may ASK if they can search your vehicle but may search it even if you don’t give consent.
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a person being detained should expect to be allowed to go in approximately 20 minutes.
- Often the detention leads to an arrest if officers find evidence.
Now, back to the scenario with Jon — he was obviously being detained. It is best not to answer any questions in these situations, because as you prolong the detention time by talking, one wrong thing said can lead to an arrest.
Scenario 4: Brent
Brent was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. During the process, police officers began to ask questions about the situation. At first, Brent didn’t say anything, but then the policeman said if he cooperated and told his side of the story, the police could get him a better “deal”. Brent was in a dilemma, not sure what to do.
Best way to handle:
An arrest is serious. You definitely don’t want to speak to police without your rights protected. Even if you think the police are going to give you a better deal if you talk, that’s usually not the case. Police don’t negotiate; prosecuting attorneys negotiate with your defense attorney – that’s why you need to contact an attorney right away. Tell the officers, “I want to remain silent”, then request to call an attorney. Remember, if you speak to the police, it will be used against you in court.
Being questioned by the police can be intimidating, frightening, and confusing. Without an attorney by your side to speak for you, you are vulnerable and open to risk. If you would like to discuss this topic further or any other legal issue, please contact us today!