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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SPEAKING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT SILENCE IS A VIRTUE
Being pulled over or receiving an at-home visit from a law enforcement officer can be very stressful. You may not know why the officer wants to speak with you or have countless questions running through your mind. We’re conditioned to wonder, “What did I do wrong?” There are many things you need to be aware of when you come into contact with law enforcement, even if they contact you through the mail or leave a business card on your front door. You should consider any and all contact with law enforcement to be an official police duty and part of an investigation. Anything you say to a police officer or a law enforcement official is part of the investigation process. What you say can be used against you or anyone else who may be involved, such as a friend or family member. Officials are looking for information, and they’re putting together a story. Chances are they’re looking for what they need to charge someone and potentially put them behind bars. In the best-case scenario, you want to avoid speaking to law enforcement or avoid contact altogether. Though, depending on the situation, avoiding contact may not be an option. However, speaking is always an option. If you’re pulled over, for example, don’t make any unnecessary statements. Even if it’s a simple traffic stop because you were going 10 over the speed limit, be mindful of what you say. If they ask, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” then they’re trying to get you to admit to fault. It’s part of an interrogation. In this type of situation, be polite and keep your answers short and to the point. You can say, “No, I don’t know why you pulled me over” or ask why, and ask if you’re getting a ticket. It’s not about playing dumb or avoiding the question. It’s about being cooperative. You still want to provide the officer with your license, registration, and proof of insurance.
If this type of traffic stop seems like it’s about more than a ticket or it’s taking a long time, you can ask if you’re free to leave. You can politely decline to have a conversation, and you don’t have to consent to a search of your vehicle. But don’t drive away before you get the okay from the officer. Now, if you’re arrested, it becomes a criminal investigation, and you should contact your lawyer. Your lawyer should speak to law enforcement on your behalf. The less you say, the better. An experienced lawyer is well-versed in this type of communication. If you get something like a business card on your front door or car windshield, or you get a letter in the mail from law enforcement, while you are not required to talk to the police, it may be in your best interest to speak to a lawyer and have them look into the matter for you. Then, your lawyer can relay information back to you and you can make an informed decision on what to do next. This is all about protecting yourself and utilizing your rights. You don’t know what law enforcement knows and you should never guess, just as you never know how they will interpret your words. Instead, you can let the legal process work for you.
–Mark Rosenfeld, Esq.
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