When you are speaking to a police officer, it is important to know at what level of contact you are. Is it a conversation in passing? Are you relaying information? Or are you being detained? These levels are important in understanding when you need to contact an attorney, or at the very least be aware you may be under suspicion of a crime. This article will describe each level of contact with a police officer, and your options at that time.
The first level of police contact is simply questioning. This may occur when you are a witness to a crime or are otherwise willingly giving the police information. Should you receive a call from a detective regarding an incident you have been named as having knowledge of, this is an example of questioning. At this time you are free to speak to a police officer, but you should be aware that even though you have not been Mirandized you could still incriminate yourself by volunteering information. Unless you are uninvolved in the situation completely, it is not advisable to answer questions about yourself in questioning.
Interviewing is similar to questioning but different. Interviewing will involve you being named in a case file and can be a prelude to an arrest. It can take place anywhere, from your own home to the police station. You may or may not be Mirandized, as you may or may not be suspected of a crime. Like questioning, you should never volunteer information that pertains to you.
Being detained is the next level of contact. Detained means you are not free to go, and that you while not under arrest, you are in the custody of law enforcement. Being detained can vary from being pulled over for a traffic stop, or being a person of interest in a crime in the vicinity. To determine whether or not you are being detained, ask, “Am I being detained? or, “Am I free to go?” If you cannot leave willingly, then you are being detained and should be Mirandized. At this time be aware that you are most likely under suspicion for a crime and should seek legal counsel.
If you are arrested, you will be informed that you are under arrest for suspicion of a specific crime. You may or may not be placed in handcuffs, and you will most likely be placed somewhere you can be monitored or secured by law enforcement. At this time you should say nothing to law enforcement and request the presence of an attorney. Remember, you can not say anything that will improve your situation, only deteriorate it. The prosecutor’s office will not be more lenient on you because you spoke to the police, on the contrary that provides them with a “slam dunk” case!
A parallel to being arrested, being charged with a crime means you have actually been formally accused of a crime by the city, state, or federal government. You may be arrested, and if so you will be transported to a local jail for arraignment by a judge. Again, at this time it is critical that you say nothing to law enforcement until you have acquired a lawyer.
In any case, if you feel you are being questioned about your own actions by the police, contact an attorney immediately! You can not talk your way out of a situation with the police, and can only harm yourself by speaking to them. They may threaten you with arrest if you refuse to talk; if this is the case, they were probably going to arrest you anyway. No matter what, as soon as you are detained, your next step is to contact a competent criminal defense attorney.