Thanks to crime dramas on television and intense media coverage of high-profile criminal cases, an average American is likely to have some understanding of his or her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Many of us have seen or heard of those charged with serious crimes “pleading the Fifth” and refusing to answer questions that law enforcement officers or prosecutors for the government might have for them. This is a powerful protection indeed, and basically assures those under investigation are under no obligation to provide the government with statements that can later be used to convict them of a crime.
Investigative Stops and Traffic Stops and Information Therefrom
One would think that the Fifth Amendment, being as long-standing and important as it is, would keep law enforcement officers from asking anyquestions of anyperson during anysituation without first securing the person’s informed consent to speak with officers despite the person’s Fifth Amendment rights. However, courts have ruled that law enforcement doeshave the right to briefly detain individuals in public and on the road in order to obtain brief and basic information. This right is triggered if law enforcement has reasonable suspicionto believe a crime has recently been committed or is being committed:
- In the context of a traffic stop, if an officer observes you commit a traffic infraction or has other reasonable suspicion to believe you are connected with a crime (i.e., a reliable tipster reported a vehicle matching the description of your vehicle and/or bearing your license plate number), the officer can pull you over and conduct a limited Depending on the circumstances, this can include asking for your driver’s license or name, insurance information, and/or basic facts about what you are doing. Aside from providing the officer with your name and/or license and insurance information if asked, you do not have to answer any further questions the officer might have.
- In the context of being out in the public, again, an officer with reasonable suspicion can approach you and ask you for your name and/or identification and basic questions that are pertinent to his or her investigation. But again, aside from providing your name, you are not required to answer the officer’s questions.
Should You Remain Silent?
There are drawbacks, though, to refusing to provide any information or response to officers who are questioning you. Refusing to answer any questions may create enough suspicion under the circumstances that the officer may decide to detain you longer, or even arrest you. For example, if the officer has reason to believe you are under the influence of alcohol but you do not answer any of his or her questions, the officer may still be able to ask you to submit to field sobriety tests and then arrest you at the conclusion of those tests, depending on your performance.
The Bottom Line
Knowing what you must provide and what you may provide is important, but it is generally safe to provide some information during the course of a traffic stop or brief detention on the street in order to help facilitate the speedy resolution of the encounter. Even if you simply tell the officer that you are not comfortable providing answers to his questions may do more to help resolve the detention than simply stonewalling the officer.
Call Dawes Legal, LLC if You are Facing Criminal Charges
If you find yourself facing any sort of charges after being stopped by law enforcement (either on the road or in a public place) be sure to speak with the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Dawes Legal, LLC as soon as possible. In some cases, any incriminating statements you may have made may be able to be kept out of court, and your stop or arrest may be challenged if the officer did not have enough evidence to detain you. Let us evaluate your situation and chart a path forward. Call us at (614) 733-9999 today.