Don’t Answer Questions Asked by the Police!
I am Fred Antenberg, a criminal defense attorney in Columbia, Maryland, with over 30 years of successful criminal law experience.
Some of us may remember a time in elementary school when we attended a school assembly visited by a policeman or policewoman. The theme of those school assemblies was “the police are our friends; they can help us”, or “always be truthful with the police”.
Philosophically I agree with those principle themes except when the police are investigating a crime and most significantly when you are invited to the police station. That invitation typically means you are suspected of having committed a crime.
Most people are curious about why the police have contacted them. Your curiosity may result in your being charged for a crime you did not commit. Worse, if you were guilty but the police did no have adequate evidence to convict you, your answers may lead to a conviction. When you talk to the police, you may inadvertently say information inconsistently or make an admission, or give in some other way information that will result in your conviction.
Do not talk to the police without your lawyer present and most good lawyers will not want you to talk to the police with or without a lawyer.
Many years ago, I was stopped by a skillful police officer who stopped me for allegedly failing to stop at a traffic light as the light was changing from yellow to red. This type of case is very difficult to prove—that I actually had a red light mini-seconds before I entered the intersection. The officer sought to get an admission from me by asking over a dozen questions. Obtaining an admission from me would have resulted in a conviction. I kept saying to myself, “do not answer any of his questions and pretend you don’t know why you were stopped”. After the officer left, my passenger, who knew me very well, commented that “I couldn’t believe you (me) could have kept quiet after so many persistent questions”.
When you are stopped because the officer has a reasonable suspicion you had been drinking and are now driving, do not respond to the following questions asked by the officer:
- Do you know why I stopped you? Remain silent.
- Do you know you were weaving? Remain silent.
- Do you know that you did not come to a complete stop? Remain silent.
- Do you know you violated ____ traffic law? Remain silent.
It is very difficult not to answer those direct questions and you both think and feel that if you cooperate by answering those questions, the officer may not charge you. Wrong—you will be charged over 95% of the time and your responses may result in a conviction of part or all of the criminal charges.
Understand by not answering the above or similar type questions, you are protected by the United States Constitution’s 5th Amendment. You cannot be compelled to testify against yourself. The officer will ask for your driver’s license and vehicle registration and you are required to provide that. Having provided those, you would not have to answer whether the vehicle you are driving belongs to you or to someone else because the name of the owner appears on the registration.
An added danger if answering questions is making inconsistent statements. The officer asks you how many beers or drinks you had. You, and most people, will say “one beer”, but the breathalyzer level result, called the blood alcohol content (BAC), objectively shows .15 so that, based on your weight, you most likely had recently consumed 4 to 6 beers. In this example, your credibility is shot because you were untruthful and the prosecutor may seek to show to the judge or jury that you should not be believed at all because you lied to the police.
People have many fears about what to do when questions are asked of them by the police. The natural urge is to answer the officer because that is how we were brought up. You may not exactly remember what you were told at elementary school assemblies but you will likely answer those questions by police.
Some clients are of the belief that it is rude or unreasonable not to answer. BE POLITE and don’t answer the police officer. If you must respond and say something, say “I respectfully refuse to answer”.
Call me, Fredric Antenberg, for a Free Initial Consultation to discuss your traffic citations, including DUI and DWI received in Howard County and in surrounding counties of Central Maryland and in the wider State of Maryland. Call me today at 410-730-4404.