If the police stop you on the street, do you have to talk to them? This is a common question that many people have. There are many reasons as to why a police officer may approach you in public and begin talking to you. In most cases, he or she will be trying to gather information to solve a potential crime or identify a suspect. Rarely will a police officer approach a person to simply make “small talk,” even if it appears that way.

By understanding your rights when stopped in public by a police officer, you can make sure you’re not taken advantage of.

Exercising Your Right to Remain Silent

First and foremost, understand that 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.

What if You’re Asked for Identification?

While it’s true that you’re under no legal obligation to talk to a police officer, there are some cases where you may be legally required to provide identification to him or her. California is one of many states where you don’t need to require ID unless the officer:

  • has detained or arrested you
  • has 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.

Asking for a Lawyer When Being Detained

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 Bottom Line

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.

For further assistance with protecting your rights during police encounters, contact us today.