If, like many people, you believe you have a legal obligation to answer any question a law enforcement officer asks you, think again. While you must identify yourself or produce identification when an officer requests you to, that is the extent of your legal obligation. You need not answer any additional questions or volunteer any additional information. In fact, doing so could come back to haunt you later.
FindLaw explains that you have two kinds of rights when officers question you: constitutional and Miranda.
In the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona, the Justices enumerated your Miranda rights as follows:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
Officers must inform you of these rights, however, only at the point where they arrest you, not before.
Your Constitutional rights, nevertheless, apply at all times as follows:
- Fourth Amendment: right against unreasonable searches and seizures, including seizures of your person, i.e., arrest
- Fifth Amendment: right against self-incrimination, i.e., to remain silent
- Sixth Amendment: right to counsel, i.e., an attorney, when faced with criminal prosecution
Asserting your rights
Given that these fundamental rights protect you any time officers attempt to question you, you best interests dictate that you assert them rather than volunteering information without an attorney present. Naturally, you should always treat officers with respect and not behave aggressively. Consequently, calmly stating “I want a lawyer” will stop the questioning without angering the officers.