Among the most common questions that people have regarding contact with the police is “Should I talk to the police?” Unless you are the one reporting a crime, the simple answer to that question is usually “no” for multiple reasons.
Although most people understand that they have a Miranda right “to remain silent,” it is surprising how many people voluntarily waive that right when questioned by the police. There are a number of reasons why this is the case. A brief discussion of these reasons may help you better understand why you should not waive your right to silence when questioned by the police.
One reason people talk to the police is because they fail to recognize that they are actually being questioned. People mistakenly believe that the police have to give them their Miranda warnings (the warnings we have all heard on television that begin with “you have the right to remain silent …”) whenever they talk to a suspect. Not true. Miranda warnings are only required after a person has been taken into custody, meaning that a police officer can “chat” with you all day long without reading you your rights. This often leads the individual being questioned to mistakenly believe they are not a suspect because no rights were given. Consequently, they are more relaxed and sometimes forget the importance of remaining silent. Along the same lines, people often think that because the officer didn’t read them their rights, anything they say cannot be used against them. Again, this is not true for the reasons previously mentioned.
Another factor that often leads people to talk to the police when they shouldn’t is basic human nature. People think that they can “clear the air” or “explain what happened” by talking to the police. Often, the police encourage this line of thinking. The important thing to remember though is that if the air needs to be cleared, or if anything needs to be explained, your attorney can do that for you in the future. People rarely talk themselves out of becoming a suspect or being arrested. Far more often they talk themselves into being convicted.
Finally, many people think that by asserting their right to an attorney and/or to remain silent, they are making themselves appear guilty. The truth of the matter is that if the police are already asking you questions, there is a good chance they already think you are guilty of something. Therefore, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by remaining silent.
Having said all of this, nothing should be taken to imply that you should not provide basic identifying information to a law enforcement officer when stopped and asked. Beyond that, however, you have every reason to assert your right to remain silent and to consult with an attorney prior to talking to the police.