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Police Interrogations FAQ

You have likely seen television programs or movies that show police interrogating someone, but is that fact or fiction? What do the police do during an interrogation? Do you have to talk to law enforcement? What rights do you have during an interrogation?

Read on for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about police interrogations.

In what circumstances do the police need a warrant to make an arrest?

Police officers generally need to obtain an arrest warrant before they arrest a criminal suspect. An arrest warrant must establish that a crime was committed and that the person named on the warrant likely committed the crime. The warrant must also comply with the rules of the court.

However, some exceptions allow law enforcement to arrest someone without a warrant. One exception is if the police have probable cause. Probable cause is a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime. If law enforcement has probable cause, it is unnecessary to obtain a warrant before officers make an arrest.

However, the police must obtain a warrant when arresting a person in their home. For example, suppose the arrest is for a non-serious offense, and there is no reasonable belief that the person will destroy evidence or harm the public. In that case, the police must obtain an arrest warrant.

Do I have to answer questions if the police stop me while I'm walking on the street?

You generally do not have to answer a police officer's questions if they stop you on the street. Unless the police officer threatens legal consequences, you generally have the right not to answer or to walk away. Most jurisdictions, however, require an individual to give their legal name if requested.

But things change if police suspect that a person was involved in or will commit a crime. For example, if they believe the person has a weapon or contraband, they may perform a stop and frisk. This is also known as a Terry stop.

Even if a police officer does not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion, any officer is allowed to ask any person on the street questions. Whether you are required to answer the questions depends on the circumstances. For example, if the police officer restricts a person's freedom of action until they answer questions, they may need to answer.

Police can also ask a person on the street to consent to a search of their person. If the police officer finds contraband during the search, they may seize it and take further legal action, if necessary.

So if police stop you for questioning on the street, you may be able to refuse to answer their questions and walk away. If, however, the police officer has one of the following, you may have to answer their questions:

  • Probable cause that you have committed, were involved in, or are about to commit a crime
  • A reasonable, articulable suspicion that you have a weapon or contraband
  • A valid search or arrest warrant

You may not know when the officer stops you if they have any of the above. One question to ask the police officer if you are unsure whether you need to answer their questions is if they are detaining you. If they say you may not leave, and they threaten legal consequences if you do not answer their questions, a court will decide whether their actions were justified.

Do the police have to give a Miranda warning when making an arrest?

No. The police do not need to give Miranda warnings before making an arrest. However, the police must give Miranda warnings or an equivalent warning before a custodial interrogation begins. The warning is meant to protect individuals' Fifth Amendment right against making self-incriminating statements. It is also known as the Miranda rule.

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona that the police must advise people of their rights before a law enforcement officer questions those in police custody. Custody refers to the deprivation of a person's freedom of movement in a significant way.

The police must give a full Miranda warning to use statements they obtained in interrogations. A typical Miranda warning consists of the following:

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. If you decide to answer questions, you have the right to stop at any time."

If the police fail to give a Miranda warning before questioning a person in custody, the prosecution cannot use the statements given against the person in a criminal case. If the interrogation leads to collecting further evidence, the so-called fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine precludes using this evidence against the person in a trial.

Therefore, if a law enforcement officer brings you to a police station and questions you in the interrogation room, but they have not provided you with a Miranda warning, the court may exclude your statements in a criminal trial.

The police questioned and arrested me without giving a Miranda warning. Will a court dismiss the case?

No. A prosecutor can still bring charges against an arrested person even if the police failed to give Miranda warnings before conducting police interrogations. While prosecutors cannot use evidence gathered during police interrogations at trial if the defendant was not Mirandized, the prosecutor can use other evidence — not obtained in the interview — to secure a conviction.

If I agree to police questioning, can I later decide not to answer questions?

Yes. Miranda warnings allow for a person to stop a police interrogation at any time, even if they have already waived the right to remain silent. A person can assert this right by invoking their right to have an attorney present or by clearly invoking their right to remain silent. Once a person asserts their Miranda rights, the police must discontinue the interrogation.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that criminal suspects have a right to have an attorney present during custodial interrogations. If you are facing criminal charges, consider contacting a criminal defense attorney near you. A criminal lawyer can provide critical legal advice and general information about criminal law and your criminal charges.

What tactics can the police use when questioning a suspect?

Officers are prohibited from using physical or psychological coercion when conducting police interrogations. A confession or evidence that results from coercive tactics is inadmissible at trial. The police, for example, may not use torture techniques, threats, drugging, or inhumane treatment during an interrogation. Using such techniques is illegal and can lead to people offering false confessions to get the interrogation to stop.

Police can, however, lie and use trickery to obtain a confession from a suspect. Law enforcement can use other types of non-coercive methods to obtain confessions.

Do the police have the right to take a bodily evidence sample without permission?

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination only applies to communication. Thus, it does not prohibit the police from collecting physical bodily samples for evidence. The police can collect material such as blood and hair samples without permission. This evidence is known as non-testimonial evidence.

More Questions About Police Interrogations? Talk to a Lawyer

If the police have interrogated you, you know what a scary and often intimidating situation it can be. Police must follow the law and respect your constitutional rights during an interrogation. If you have any questions about police interrogations, or if police have charged you with a crime, it's a good idea to contact a local criminal defense lawyer to get your questions answered and discuss your case.

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