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When Police Want to Question You, Can You Say 'No'?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Police don't have to arrest you to get you to talk. Often they simply ask you to come down to the station for questioning.

Here's the funny thing about our legal system: This "request" is considered just as legally binding as an invitation from your neighbor to come gossip about the new house across the street. And correspondingly, police need not read you your Miranda rights, arrest you, or tell you to call a lawyer if you decide to come in and speak with them.

So can you say "no" to a police request for questioning?

You Can Always Say 'No' to Police Questioning

Even if you're not the subject of a criminal investigation, you always have the right to decline to answer police questions. This applies whether an officer approaches you on the street, calls you to come into the station for questioning, or even after you're arrested. Your silence is your right under the Fifth Amendment, and there are rarely times when refusing to answer a cop will result in criminal liability.

One of those times is when an officer asks you to identify yourself. You can also be charged with obstruction if you refuse to comply with a police order. They may sound like questions (e.g., "Can you step out of the car ma'am?"), but they are actually commands.

Police Won't Tell You That You Can Decline

The U.S. Supreme Court and many lower courts are convinced that most interactions with police are civil, even friendly encounters between earnest citizens and helpful law enforcement. Think any cop from "Leave It to Beaver" or "The Andy Griffith Show."

These "consensual encounters," a euphemism used in a 1991 Supreme Court case, do not require police to read you your Miranda rights. Police do not even have to tell you that you're free to leave or end the conversation. If an officer asks you to come down to the police station for questioning, this is an invitation for a consensual encounter, one you can easily decline.

Sure it might sound suspicious or even rude to decline to speak with officers, but you shouldn't feel legally obliged in any way to agree to a request for questioning.

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