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Protecting your rights during a police stop

Being stopped by police may be frightening and confusing and they are usually not looking after your best legal interests. Knowing what to do during police questioning may be vital to your criminal defense.

Silence is a vital right

You have the right to remain silent under the Constitution. You are not required to talk to police or anyone else even if you believe you cannot walk away from the officer, you are under arrest or if you are in jail. There is no punishment for exercising this right.

There are some exceptions

Judges may require you to answer questions. You should also provide your name to police, if asked, but you do not have to answer questions.

If you are driving a vehicle and stopped by police, you should show your license, vehicle registration and insurance identification. You do not have to answer questions about your activities.

Speaking to law enforcement

Anything you say to police may be used against you in a prosecution. Lying or showing false identification to police is a crime, but remaining silent until you speak to a lawyer is not illegal. You may stop answering questions and ask to speak to an attorney even if you answered some questions.

Grand jury subpoena

Police may make unfounded promises or threats to induce you to answer questions. Police sometimes claim that they will obtain a grand jury subpoena if you refuse to answer questions. This subpoena is a written order requiring you to go before a grand jury and present testimony on any information you have.

You still do not have to answer questions if this threat is made. Police may be unsuccessful or not seek this subpoena. If a grand jury subpoena is issued, you must follow its instructions on appearing before the grand jury. You also have rights to remain silent about specific matters when you appear before this jury.

Your right to legal counsel precedes police questioning

You have the right to speak to an attorney before answering questions even if the police do not inform you of this right. Once you ask to speak to a lawyer, police must stop their questioning. You may remain silent even if they continue their questioning.

Keep your attorney’s business card with you. Show it to the police and ask to call your attorney – who should be present to ensure your rights are respected. You may ask to speak to an attorney even if you do not have one. Stay calm and obtain the name, law enforcement agency and phone number of any officer who stops or visits you and provide that information to your attorney.