In Florida and elsewhere, when a suspect is arrested, he/she has a constitutional right to remain silent and consult a lawyer before making any statements or making any important decisions about the case. In fact, for just about every defendant in a criminal case, this is exactly what a suspect or defendant should do. It is exceedingly rare for a person to make a statement to the police at that early stage, with such limited information and without the advice of a criminal defense lawyer, and it doesn’t do anything but hurt the defendant’s case.
As part of this right to remain silent and consult a criminal defense attorney, the police are required to read the Miranda warnings to a suspect who is in custody before any request to speak with him/her about the case. These warnings inform the suspect that he/she has a right to remain silent and a right to a criminal defense lawyer. If the suspect invokes those rights, the police cannot question the suspect about the case.
However, even when a suspect exercises his/her right to remain silent and requests a criminal defense attorney, the police can still ask certain questions about the suspect as part of the arrest and booking process. The police are still permitted to ask biographical and routine booking questions. For example, when the police arrest someone, they fill out reports and enter the suspect’s information into their system. They can ask questions relating to physical characteristics, age, address, date of birth, place of employment and similar identifying characteristics. The police cannot ask questions that are designed to elicit information about the case.
Sometimes, some of that basic information could be incriminating to a suspect. For instance, if the case involves a work related crime, a suspect telling the police where he/she works could help the state prove the case. In these situations, it is important for a person to know that the state can ask those questions, but the suspect does not have to answer them if he/she thinks they might be incriminating. A suspect should not be deliberately obstructive when a police officer is asking routine booking questions, but a suspect should also not give the police any information that could negatively impact the case.
Another scenario where these permissible questions could be detrimental to a defendant is when a suspect offers more information than is requested. Police in this situation cannot ask questions that are likely to elicit a response about the case. However, if the police ask a routine booking question and the suspect starts talking about other things that are related to the case, the police can use that against the suspect in court. Therefore, when being booked into the jail or when the police officer is filling out an arrest report, the suspect should make sure not to provide any unnecessary and incriminating information, whether in response to a question or as a tangent to a question.