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What You Need to Know About Police Questioning

Wiberg Law Office, PLLC
Police officer interrogating suspect in handcuffs at desk

Encountering law enforcement can be an unsettling and very significant experience. Such encounters often come without warning and often involve difficult questions about your actions, position, obligations, and most importantly, your rights.  

Understanding your rights in such circumstances can be extremely beneficial to your defense. Not knowing can be disastrous. Fortunately, Wiberg Law Office has the resources, knowledge, and experience to help you with police questioning. 

Knowing Your Rights 

Understanding your rights when the police want to ask you questions is essential. The Fifth Amendment (Miranda Rights), acts as your shield against self-incrimination, but this is not the whole story. Your rights encompass a broader set of protections that are embedded in constitutional law. 

Your right to an attorney is always available. Should you find yourself cornered by law enforcement, invoking this right can mean the difference between a successful defense and facing possible penalties. 

The Right to Know the Nature of the Suspected Offense 

Transparency is essential. The law stipulates that you are entitled to a basic understanding of the nature of the allegation or inquiry. However, this right does not guarantee that the police will tell you what crime they believe you have committed at your first encounter. If you are charged, then you will have to be informed of this information no later than at your arraignment in court. Consequently, if you are detained and they will not tell you why, then you should not get into a debate about these details, since anything you say may be taken out of context or even misquoted later. You should immediately inform the police that you do not want to answer questions and that you will not do so without an attorney present. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution protects your rights in this regard:

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

The Right to Leave if Not Under Arrest 

The distinction between arrest and detention is subtle yet significant. Knowing when you are free to go is important for maintaining control over the situation. If you are unsure if you are being detained, politely ask the law enforcement officer without volunteering any other statements.

Arrest vs. Detention 

An arrest takes away your freedom. Detention is a temporary seizure for investigative purposes. Understanding these concepts is pivotal for determining the extent of your interactions with law enforcement officers.

Can a Police Detective Bring Someone in for Questioning Without a Warrant? 

The answer lies in the realm of possibility rather than legality. A detective can indeed request your presence for questioning without a warrant under specific circumstances. However, your response is a different matter. You have no obligation to "come down to the station" unless you have been placed under arrest. In any event, you do not have to and should not answer questions without an attorney present.

Strategizing Your Response 

The response to a police inquiry is not simply a matter of yes or no. Your choices are intertwined with the circumstances of the questioning. The following approach can help with handling police interviews. However, this approach should never be attempted in the absence of an attorney and there are only very limited circumstances where a competent criminal defense attorney will advise speaking to the police even with an attorney present. The police are trained to handle us, but very few of us have been trained to deal with them and their interrogation techniques.

Preparation Is Key 

Preparation can mitigate anxiety and ensure a composed response. The following preparatory steps can significantly boost your confidence during police questioning. 

  • The power of remaining silent: Maintaining silence is often the most potent tactic during police questioning. Not answering questions is one of your legal rights and can prevent you from divulging too much or saying something that could be used against you.

  • Speaking without legal counsel: A conversation with the police, though seemingly benign, can be a minefield for the unadvised. There are many risks associated with speaking to law enforcement without legal representation, as certain things you say could be used against you. In our experience, police officers most often come to conclusions about your situation before they ask you questions. This usually means that they are not actively listening, but, rather, cherry-picking your statements for bits that can confirm what they have already decided.

  • Asserting your rights: Asserting your rights should not be confrontational. There are subtle yet effective ways to assert your legal rights during police questioning. For example, if you are approached by police for questioning, you have the right to politely deny questioning, the right to have an attorney present, and the right to refuse warrantless searches of your person, vehicle, or home. This last right is subject to exceptions. For example, if you have been arrested, the police can do a search incident to arrest (purportedly for officer safety). In any event, if they begin a search, legal or illegal, do not physically resist as this can lead to additional criminal charges.

Real-Life Scenarios and Their Legal Avenues 

Understanding your rights and strategies in real-life scenarios helps ground theoretical knowledge if you find yourself being questioned by police. The following are the most common scenarios where police questioning comes into play:  

  • Street encounters 

  • At home 

  • Traffic stops 

  • Detention for questioning 

Building a Resourceful Network of Support 

Legal expertise and support must be accessible at a moment's notice. The following steps can help establish a supportive network for safeguarding your rights. 

  • The emergency contact list: An emergency contact list is an invaluable asset for swift legal assistance. Legal counsel can explain the critical information your list should contain. 

  • The role of lawyers in police interrogations: A criminal defense attorney can fight for your rights and seek the best possible outcome for your situation. 

  • Exercising your rights: Your rights are your armor and your voice. An attorney can explain the significance of actively exercising these rights in preserving your legal well-being. 

  • The bottom line on police questioning: The stakes in police questioning are high, but your rights are powerful protections guaranteed by law. By understanding police questioning, knowing when to speak, and when to invoke your rights, you can transform a bad encounter into an empowering exercise of your civil liberties. 

Stay Informed With Wiberg Law Office, PLLC 

For inquiries, updates, and legal news, your next step is to contact Wiberg Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys Wiberg and Stone can help you understand your rights and legal options. Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Wiberg Law Office, PLLC proudly serves clients throughout the surrounding areas of Rockingham, Strafford, Hillsborough, Merrimack, Belknap, and Carroll Counties, as well as all of New Hampshire's major cities, including Portsmouth, Nashua, Dover, Concord, Laconia, and Manchester.s