Being stopped by police for questioning can be a very stressful, anxiety-inducing situation. But it doesn’t have to be. To be sure, when a crime is committed, police have a job to do investigating, solving, and then arresting those responsible for it. However, every individual, even those who have committed a crime, have rights that police cannot infringe upon.

One of the most important rights is the right to remain silent. Remember that anything you say to police will be held against you later on. Many individuals have seriously hurt their case simply by saying too much to police.

There are, however, several questions you might want to ask police officers even as you are exercising your right to silence. These questions can help you understand the situation. And, the answers police give you and the actions they take after they ask them might even help you later on. 

Be sure to pay attention to what police officers say in response to each of the following questions. If an officer infringes on your rights it could lead to the dismissal of condemning evidence. 

Am I Being Detained?

If police have a “reasonable suspicion” that you were involved or know something about criminal activity that has taken place and they are investigating, they do have a right to detain you. However, such a detainment cannot be indefinite. In fact, the detainment needs to be “brief and cursory.” 

During this time the officer might ask you questions or conduct a quick investigation to see if there is evidence to actually arrest you. By asking if you are being detained, you are communicating to the officer that you know your rights and will exercise them. 

Remember to remain silent as the police ask you questions about the incident.

Am I Under Arrest?

The legal standard police have to uphold for an arrest is higher than the “reasonable suspicion” standard for detainment. For an arrest, police need to have “probable cause.” In proving probable cause, police need to be able to point to objective, tangible evidence that leads them to believe a person was a suspect. 

The answer to this question will help you know what to do and ask next. If you are under arrest, you will need to remain silent and wait to answer any more questions until your lawyer is present. If the answer is no, you can begin to ask questions related to when you will be able to leave.

If police do arrest you without probable cause do not resist. Your rights have been violated, and your attorney will bring that to the court’s attention and file a motion to get the charges against you dismissed. 

Why Am I Being Detained or Arrested?

Police cannot detain or arrest you without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. If they do so it is a violation of your rights. Ask this question to show police that you know your rights and wait to see what the answer is. Do your best to remember what they say as it will be able to help your case later on.

Am I Free to Go?

If the police are not arresting you, then the next question  you can ask them is if you are free to go. Because you are not going to answer any question without a lawyer present, there is little chance they are going to get any additional information from you. At this point, there is very little reason for police to keep you.

By asking this question you will remind them of that and will establish that you have cooperated but will not let your rights be infringed upon. You can ask this question more than once and even ask how long they plan to detain you. Keep track of how much time has elapsed and don’t answer their questions.

If the officer becomes agitated, threatens you, or interacts in an inappropriate manner, take a mental note. All of these things can be used later in court or by your lawyer to reduce charges or have them dropped altogether.

Do You Have a Search Warrant?

While police might have the right to do a brief search of your person to check for weapons, they do not have the right to search your car or your house without a warrant or probable cause. Evidence obtained via an unauthorized search should be thrown out. 

By asking this question you will know where an officer is in their investigation and will also be able to determine whether or not the police are acting unlawfully. While an officer can search your car if they have probable cause to do so, if they ask for permission, you do have the right to say no. Never consent to a search of your house or car without a warrant.

However, never stop an officer from searching your house or car if they proceed to do so without a warrant or probable cause. If they do find incriminating evidence via an unlawful search, your lawyer will work to get the evidence dismissed.

May I Speak to My Lawyer?

Legal representation is another right afforded by the United States Constitution. Even if you can’t afford a lawyer the court will appoint one to represent you. However, asking to speak with your lawyer is not the same thing as asking for a criminal lawyer.

Also, be aware that an officer might continue to question you even if you do ask to speak to a lawyer. Continue to remain silent and wait to answer any questions until you and your lawyer are together. 

The Keys to Successful Interactions With Police

Police officers play a crucial role in maintaining order in our nation’s cities. However, if they stop you for questioning, it is important to be prepared so that you don’t incriminate yourself or let them infringe on your rights. Remember to ask any officer who stops you:

  • Am I being detained?
  • Am I under arrest?
  • Why am I being detained or arrested?
  • Am I free to go?
  • Do you have a search warrant?
  • May I speak to my lawyer?

By asking these questions and consulting with a qualified criminal defense lawyer, you will greatly increase the chances that the interaction will go smoothly and that you will minimize legal consequences should charges be brought later.