You should avoid friendly chats and conversations with the police when they stop you for questioning about any type of criminal offense, from a traffic ticket or misdemeanor to a felony. Just think for a second – if the police were truly trying to help you or to find out what happened, they would readily respect that you have a right to a lawyer when the police question you. That they want to question you without your lawyer is a clear red flag that the police are not on your side and that the police may use what you say to help justify an arrest or a conviction.
Once the police talk with you, any hint or smell of an awkward answer, an untruthful answer, or any answer that might link you to the offense the police are investigating can begin further inquiries. The police will then try to determine if there is more evidence to be found against you to support filing criminal charges and to discredit your version of what happened.
Your right not to talk to the police is established law
The right NOT to speak to the police is set forth in the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. The Amendment states “No person… shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself….”
The Supreme Court, in Miranda vs. Arizona, took the extra step of requiring that the police inform anyone who is in custody (arrested) or being interrogated (direct questions or actions likely to result in an incriminating response) be told that they have the right to remain silent.
What information are the police permitted to obtain?
The police generally need reasonable grounds to believe a crime was committed to search you or seize you. Otherwise, they need to obtain a warrant that is based on probable cause of your involvement. With or without a warrant, you still have the right to stay silent and ask to speak to your attorney.
Some minimal exceptions may apply. For example, if there is a vehicle accident, the police have the right to ask for your driver’s license, driver’s registration, and vehicle insurance. They also have the right to ask what happened.
Generally, you are only required to tell the police your name, where you live, and possibly your date of birth. Tennessee law provides that people who are asked to produce their identification by the police and fail to do so can be arrested for that failure. But you don’t have to say anything else without a lawyer present.
Why shouldn’t I speak to the police?
People mistakenly think it’s okay to talk with the police for many reasons:
- You know you didn’t do anything wrong, so why not speak with the police? There are several reasons why this is not a good idea. Being questioned by law enforcement is still very intimidating. You may not understand the questions that are being asked. You may volunteer information that isn’t 100% accurate and the slightest inaccuracy can be used against you.
- You may not be prepared for the tactics police use during questioning. Due to fear and aggressive questioning by the police, many people who have been questioned about a crime or even questioned after being arrested confess to crimes – even though they are perfectly innocent. The police are skilled and will use many different strategies to try to get incriminating information from you. The police may even lie to get information such as by saying they have information or even a confession from an accomplice when they don’t.
- Sometimes one wrong answer or unclear answer can snowball. The police are looking for you to say something they can use against you. Just one comment that raises suspicion can lead to many more questions. The police may seek to run a background check to see if you have a prior criminal record. They may seek a warrant to search your house. They may begin to question any witnesses, neighbors, and coworkers about you.
- You do not understand the legal process. There are many rules the police are required to follow when they are talking to a suspect or someone they have arrested. Your lawyer will assert these rules on your behalf. You likely won’t have any idea how to assert these rules because you won’t even know what rules benefit you.
Why speaking to a criminal defense lawyer is your best option if the police want to question you
First, by saying you wish to speak with your lawyer, you have a chance to breathe again. Being questioned by the police is scary. When you say you want to talk to your lawyer, the police have a duty to stop questioning you.
By asking for your lawyer, you’re affirming that you do not want to talk any further. There’s no real upside to speaking with the police. Any information they seek can be gained through your lawyer.
Your lawyer understands what information and evidence the police have a right to know. He also understands what questions the police cannot ask and what questions are not in your best interest to answer.
Your lawyer also understands how to speak much more persuasively than you do. Skilled criminal defense lawyers understand how to make an argument and how to steer conversations to more favorable topics.
The police and prosecutors understand that you have a right to speak to a lawyer. That you asked to speak to your lawyer should not be held against you.
If you’ve been stopped by the police for questioning or arrested, you should immediately ask to speak to your lawyer. Don’t explain. Don’t try to be helpful. Don’t talk. You have the right not to talk. Ask to speak with the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates. We’ll speak for you. We’ll be your advocate. The police respect us. Our Franklin criminal lawyers have been fighting for criminal defendants for 30 years. Call us today or fill out our convenient contact form to speak with a defense lawyer in Franklin, Brentwood, or Columbia.