Suppose you are outside your home or in a public place when the police arrive and begin asking questions. Law enforcement officers have a duty to protect the community they serve, its citizens and their property. The law gives police certain powers to help them perform that duty.

Police have the power to approach persons and ask them questions. Simply because you are approached and questioned by the police does not mean you are suspected of having committed a crime. All citizens are encouraged to cooperate with the police so those who break the law can be brought to justice, but, with one exception, discussed below, you have no legal duty to answer any question, and you may refuse to answer. This is called the right of silence. You should never lie to a law enforcement officer, however. If you do, you can get into trouble for “obstructing official business.”

Suppose you are walking down a street when a police officer confronts you and says: “Stop. I need to ask you some questions.” A person is “stopped,” or “detained,” when an officer uses enough force, or a show of authority, to make a reasonable person feel he or she is not free to leave. If, in addition to calling out for you to stop and using his or her authority to make you stop, the officer also pulls out a weapon or uses a threatening tone of voice, it would be even clearer that you have been “stopped.” If the officer interferes with your liberty to move about, he or she should first have a reasonable suspicion that you have been involved in a crime. The officer would need to support this suspicion later (should the matter should wind up in court) by referring to specific facts that prompted the suspicion.

The police do not have to tell you that you are a suspect or that they intend to arrest you, but if they use force or a show of authority to keep you from leaving, they probably consider you a suspect, even if you were the person who called the police. If they read or recite your Miranda rights, they suspect you have committed a crime.

You have the right, if you are stopped, to refuse to answer any questions for any reason or no reason. You can invoke your right to silence by saying,

“I refuse to answer any questions” or “I want to speak to a lawyer” or “I wish to remain silent.”

If you do not clearly invoke your right to silence with such a statement, you may subject yourself to continued questioning by police.

There is one exception to your right to silence in law: if you are in a public place and under certain circumstances, you must give your name, address and date of birth to an officer. If you fail to provide this information under such circumstances, you will be committing a misdemeanor and may be arrested.

Also, if you are only being stopped, you can refuse to give your consent for an officer to search your person, vehicle or home. Your refusal will force the police officer to legally justify any search made without your consent.

Further, anything you say can be used as evidence against you. Sometimes people think that what they are saying won’t incriminate them, but it can provide a link in a chain of information that could incriminate them.
Even if you believe the officer has no grounds to stop and question you, do not argue with or resist the police. Arguing or resisting will not help you, and may make it more likely that the police will arrest you and bring criminal charges against you. It may also give them grounds to bring even more criminal charges against you, which can make it harder for you to get out of jail on bail if you are charged.

Once officers no longer have grounds to detain you, they should say you are free to go before asking to search you or your car.

Now, I must inform you that an arrest is different from a stop. A stop involves brief questioning in the place where you were detained. If the officer wants to hold you longer, or decides to take you elsewhere, such as to the police station, he or she is no longer just stopping you, but is arresting you. An arrest deprives you of your freedom of movement for an even longer period of time than a stop, so the law limits the instances when arrests can be made.


You may be arrested by a police officer who personally saw you violate a known law. Police arrest powers vary depending on the seriousness of the offense. The important thing is that the officer sees the violation.

  1. If the charge is a minor
    misdemeanor for which only a fine is the possible penalty (not time in jail), the officer may not arrest you and take you into custody unless you fail to give your name, refuse to sign the citation, or have previously failed to appear in court or pay a fine on a similar offense.

  2. An officer can generally only arrest you for a misdemeanor committed in his or her presence, EXCEPT if: 1) you have an outstanding warrant or long history of failure to appear in court; 2) your medical or mental state might cause you to harm yourself or others;

  3. The offense is domestic violence or the officer is concerned you may harm another person;

  4. You fail to identify yourself with your name and date of birth. If you refuse to identify yourself, the officer can take you into custody to determine your identity.

  5. You may be arrested for a felony (a crime for which jail is a possible penalty), even if the police officer did not personally see you commit the felony, IF the officer had reasonable cause to believe you committed the crime. Later, the court system (not the police) will determine if the officer’s belief was reasonable and if you are guilty or innocent.

  6. You may be arrested when there is a warrant for your arrest, whether or not you are aware of the warrant. The police cannot cancel an existing warrant. They must serve it and arrest the person named on the warrant.

An arrest warrant is a legal document, issued by a judge or a clerk of the courts, directing the police or the sheriff to arrest you and take you into custody. This document does not have to be on any particular form. The arresting officer is not required to have the warrant in hand when you are arrested. The officer must show you the warrant within a reasonable time after you are arrested and give you a copy. If the officer fails to do so, tell your attorney later.

Even if you believe the officer has no grounds to arrest you, do not argue with or resist the police. You have no right to argue about why you are being arrested or about your guilt or innocence at the time of the arrest. Arguing or resisting will not help you. It will mean the police can bring additional criminal charges against you, and may make it harder for you to get out of jail on bail if you are charged.

Again, do not argue with the police.
Never resist your arrest. Do not run away.
Never resist the arrest of another person.


  1. An officer who wants to ask you questions other than your name and address must advise you that you have a right not to answer the questions.

  2. You have the right to be told why you are being arrested and the nature of the charges against you (the crime for which you are being arrested). If you are arrested on a warrant, you have the right to see the warrant within a reasonable time after your arrest, to read it and make certain your name appears on it, and to see the charge against you.

  3. You have the right to be told your constitutional rights (” Miranda” rights) before being questioned following your arrest. These
    Miranda rights are:

The right to remain silent and not answer any questions;

The right to know that if you waive (give up) your right to remain silent and do answer questions, the police can use your answers against you in court;

The right to stop answering questions at any time and talk with an attorney, even if you have begun to answer questions;

The right to speak privately with an attorney before answering any questions or signing anything.

If you cannot afford an attorney and if the crime that prompted your arrest has jail time as a possible penalty, you also have a right to have an attorney appointed to represent you at no cost to you before being questioned, and to have that attorney with you during any questioning to which you may later agree to submit.

You CANNOT be penalized for refusing to answer an officer’s questions. If you try to cooperate by answering questions while you are being held in police custody, you may create difficulties for your lawyer in defending you.

Kingsley Ughe, Esquire., A Senior Associate at ECULAW GROUPS & Geopolitical Risk Analyst can be reached @

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