What Can I Do if Police Want to Question Me?
Criminal defense attorneys are generally hired after someone is arrested and charged with a crime.
But if someone is receiving phone calls from police or is under investigation for a crime, a lawyer may be able to prevent arrests or charges before they happen.
If you suspect you could be in trouble or if you feel as if a police officer is being accusatory, there are steps you can take to protect your rights.
Three Types of Police Questioning
Whenever a police officer questions someone, an explanation of rights and obligations is required. There are different rules for each situation.
- A voluntary encounter is a situation in which a suspect is free to leave whenever he or she wishes to do so. This kind of questioning does not require proof or a warrant. A situation ceases to be “voluntary” any time police indicate that a suspect cannot leave.
- A temporary detention takes place when police have “reasonable suspicion” to believe an offense has been committed and the person being questioned was involved. Even common behaviors can be grounds for reasonable suspicion. Courts will generally side with police on this issue, but sometimes this law prevents citizens from being detained based on nothing more than a hunch.
- If an officer has probable cause, he or she can make an arrest. This obviously takes a situation beyond simple questioning. Even if someone being arrested is completely innocent of a crime, law enforcement will take action if they have a reason to believe evidence links him or her to a crime.
“You’re Not Under Arrest; We Just Want to Speak with You”
When police begin calling someone at home or work asking for answers to a few questions, it usually means they think the person is connected to a crime. A common initial response to these kind of inquiries is a desire to “clear the air” by voluntarily engaging in questioning. But police don’t generally call people for friendly chats; when they target someone, their goal is to validate suspicions.
Chances are, the police will have some kind of evidence or proof before contacting someone for interrogation. Even if someone is convinced of his or her innocence, police may have eyewitness testimony or security camera footage suggesting otherwise.
Anyone under suspicion of a crime has no obligation to speak to police. “You have the right to remain silent” isn’t a meaningless expression – it’s a right. The line immediately after (“Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”) should discourage anyone from thinking of having a casual conversation with police.
What Can Go Wrong?
Walking into a police station without a lawyer is taking an unnecessary risk. It’s impossible to know what the police intend to gain from a round of questioning. They might already have enough to make an arrest.
The following are just a few of the many things that could go wrong.
- You might admit to facts that can prove guilt. Even if you’re innocent of a crime, something you say can come back to bite you in court. For example, you might admit to striking someone “in self-defense” or to simply being present when the incident in question occurred. Telling the police any of these things will only help them build their case against you.
- You might accidentally lie. When being questioned by police, every single thing you say will be scrutinized. If you misspeak or accidentally say one name instead of the other, this can cause suspicion. Even if you immediately recognize and correct your error, it’s too late. The police have already made a note of it.
- You might be misunderstood. Even if you have an airtight alibi and a spotless criminal record, something you say can still be misunderstood or taken the wrong way. You probably don’t have a lot of practice speaking to police with unerring precision. This is a skill attorneys have.
Hiring an Attorney
In a situation like those listed above, a criminal defense attorney can step in to prevent charges from ever being filed. At the very least, an attorney can prevent a suspect from saying something incriminating in front of police.
Some people might be concerned that hiring an attorney before charges are filed will make law enforcement suspicious. Even if this is true, suspicion isn’t proof of anything. And there are understandable reasons why some people don’t want to talk to police.
If you have been contacted by police, contact Berry Law today. Our team of attorneys can step in to defend you before you even speak a word.