Don’t Talk to The Police…Ever
Only guilty people ask to have a lawyer present when being questioned by police is a common misperception held by many people. This could not be any less true. The police are uniquely eqipeed and programmed to investigate crimes and charge people they think are responsible. If they are talking to you then you may very well be a suspect and anything you say can be twisted up to serve their purpose which is charge someone (maybe you!) with a crime. In fact, an innocent person is in far more jeopardy than a guilty person because at least guilty people know what the police are trying to find out whereas an innocent may unwittingly and coincidentally say something that fits the police officer’s theory of the crime.
If the police stop you on the street, do you have to talk to them? I am asked this all the time. Under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, you always have the right to remain silent when speaking to a police officer. You’re never under any obligation to speak to an officer, let alone answer any questions.
Even if you haven’t committed a crime, it’s generally best to exercise your right to remain silent if you’re ever approached and questioned by an officer in public. You can do this by simply responding to the officer’s attempts at conversation with something along the lines of, “I wish to remain silent.” If he or she persists with trying to get you to talk, continue to express your right to remain silent.
In New Jersey you may be required to show ID to the officer if detained or arrested or pulled you over in your vehicle. Therefore, if an officer has randomly approached you in public and asks for identification, your first question should be, “am I being detained or am I free to go?” If you’re being detained (this means the officer has probable cause to believe you’ve committed a crime), then you will be required to show ID. Failure to do so could result in a criminal charge. Still, this doesn’t mean that you’re required to speak with the officer. Let him or her know where your ID is located or ask for permission to reach for it.
If it turns out that you are being detained for any reason, again, this still doesn’t legally obligate you to answer any questions or speak with officers. In fact, now would be a good time to ask for a lawyer, since you’re going to be criminally charged and officers/detectives will likely attempt to further question you once they take you to jail for booking. Even if an officer claims he or she can “cut you a break” if you answer some questions, elect to remain silent and let them know that you won’t speak without an attorney present. In reality, a police officer can’t cut you any breaks, as the charges you face are ultimately in the hands of the prosecutor working on your case–not the arresting officer. By refusing to speak until an attorney is present, you can be sure that you’ll be well advised and protected when handling your case.
The most important thing to remember here is that you are never required to speak to a police officer–even if you’re being detained. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to show ID, but you don’t need to answer any questions. If you’re arrested, always ask for an attorney and don’t answer any questions until one is present.