Posted On: August 27, 2009 by Shorstein & Lasnetski

When Police Ask Questions, You Do Not Always Have To Answer

We see countless criminal cases in the Jacksonville, Florida area where regular people or suspects talk and answer questions when police come to investigate a crime, and the result is the person talks him/herself into getting arrested and/or gives the police officer the evidence he/she needs (and did not have) to make a strong criminal case against the person.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to remain silent and not answer a question from a police officer when that answer may incriminate you. For example, consider a situation where a vehicle with four occupants gets pulled over, and the officer finds a bag of marijuana or cocaine in the center console area. The bag of illegal drugs is within arm's reach of each of the four occupants. The police officer takes all four people out of the car and asks questions to find to whom the drugs belong. What should the four occupants do?

The police officer wants at least one person to take ownership of the drugs so a valid arrest can be made. Keep in mind that the police officer is going to say various things, from promises to threats, to make the people think they should, or have to, answer his/her questions. The police officer may say that he'll arrest everyone and take them all to jail unless someone claims the drugs. The police officer may promise that the person who claims responsibility will get a better deal or a slap on the wrist if he/she claims the drugs. The police officer may say anything, but his/her purpose is clearly to get a statement from someone so he/she can make an arrest and make it stick.

The four occupants do not have to say anything. The four occupants should not say anything. The officer may then get upset and arrest everyone. However, in this scenario, which is very common, this case will either get dropped by the prosecutor or can be beaten at trial because without an incriminating statement, there may be no way for the state to prove who in the vehicle owned or possessed the drugs. If the state cannot prove that, they cannot prove their case.

This happens often in the context of a DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) case as well. If a police officer pulls you over and suspects that you have been drinking, he/she will likely ask you if you have been drinking, how much and where you have been. Why would you answer those questions if the answers will only serve to incriminate you? You can politely request to speak to a criminal defense lawyer and leave it at that.

The right to remain silent is one of the most important rights provided in the Constitution. Unfortunately, so many people being investigated for drug crimes and other criminal activity fail to exercise this right. When the police officer starts asking questions and makes threats or promises, although the police officer clearly just wants to make an arrest, for some reason people start talking and bury themselves. The Fifth Amendment guarantees that you do not have to do that.

If you have any questions about a police investigation into criminal activity and what your rights are, feel free to contact us for a free consultation. Even if you are the middle of a police encounter, you have a right to get on your cell phone or home phone and contact an attorney and ask questions, which may be a good option for you rather than say something that will be used against you in court at a later date.