Can You Legally Refuse to Answer a Police Officer’s Questions?

A question that comes up often is whether you have to talk to the cops if they stop you. The Supreme Court has ruled in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada that you have to give them your name when asked, but beyond that there is not a requirement to divulge any more information. There are some nuances to situational interactions with cops which we’ll go into below.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

You’ve probably seen the scene played out many times on police procedural dramas on TV. A police officer is required to tell a suspect their rights, which includes the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. If you’re ever stopped by the police, know that if you have not committed a crime at the time that the police officer is stopping you, you can assert your right to remain silent and not answer any of the police officer’s questions beyond telling them your name. A police officer may informally ask you to come over and talk to them. The only thing you have to say to ascertain whether you’ve committed a crime is “excuse me officer, have I done anything wrong?” Police should at this point give you the reason why they stopped you and you can then assess whether or not you’re in any type of trouble. You can follow up with the question “am I free to go along my way?” to help emphasize to the police that as long as you’ve not committed any crime, you do not wish to speak to the police.

If Speaking to the Police Voluntarily, Only Give Them Basic Information

You want to be brief and to the point when you give any information to a police officer. Do not attempt to volunteer any information in addition to what’s being asked of you. Any falsifications on your part (which can be verified by the police officer) will ultimately result in you telling a lie and getting arrested. Although it’s within your right to remain silent if you haven’t committed any crime, it can sometimes help the situation along if you give the police officer some basic information. This can include:

  • Your name.
  • Your address and the details of your current living situation (like who you live with).
  • Your reason for being out and where you’re heading.

Don’t Lie to the Cops

You can go from being an innocent person to a prisoner in a split second just by answering questions from a cop. But the most dangerous thing you can do when talking to the police is to lie to them. If you aren’t truthful to a police officer, the very act of lying means you have committed a crime and that gives them a reason to lock you up. It’s ultimately best that you remain silent instead of giving them a reason to arrest you. Note that it’s very difficult to lie to a cop. If you lie to a normal citizen, they generally assume that you are telling the truth and don’t ask any follow-up questions to verify the veracity of what you’re saying. Lying to a cop is much more difficult since they are trained to deal with lies.

  • Cops are generally skeptical that people are telling them the truth.
  • The cops will sometimes have access to corroborating witnesses to check on the validity of your statements.
  • Cops are authoritarian and rude because they’re trained that way. Because of their training, they will also use psychological tactics that you may not detect when they question you to try and uncover more than you’re willing to tell.
  • Cops will sometimes invade your personal space, perhaps even poking you with a finger in an effort to emotionally intimidate you so that you can’t think clearly.
  • Cops have the time and resources to verify anything that you tell them. This could be the addresses and phone numbers of your acquaintances as well as your criminal record. By pressuring people into lying, cops can also pressure someone into fleeing and resisting arrest. This is another way that cops can then turn a citizen into a prisoner.

If you’ve had a recent run in with the police and need legal guidance, please contact us today for a private consultation.

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