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What to Do When Being Questioned by the Police


For many, being confronted by a police officer can be a nerve-racking experience, and the anxiety can cause people to make rash statements and mistakes when the officer begins asking questions. Knowing your rights and being prepared can help alleviate the stress of the moment and make a huge difference in the outcome.


Here are some important tips and lessons to keep in mind when being questioned by the police.


Do the police have to be truthful?

For the most part, law enforcement officers are required to be truthful when speaking to a civilian. In Wisconsin, there are two major exceptions that are important to keep in mind. First, officers are not required to respond truthfully if asked, “Why did you pull me over?” Because of this, it’s best to avoid that question altogether when confronted by police.


Second, police are allowed by law to lie during an interrogation to “get the truth” from you. For example, law enforcement can claim to have evidence that doesn’t exist if they believe it will lead to a confession. They can claim to have video, DNA evidence, witness statements, or confessions from other defendants that implicate you, even if they have nothing at all.


Know Your Rights

Do the police have the right to search my belongings?

In the United States Constitution, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens against “unreasonable” search and seizure. This amendment secures Americans from their car, home or person being searched by a law enforcement officer without a search warrant. However, police officers can search a car or home without a warrant if given permission. To avoid an unwarranted search, citizens simply can exercise their right by declining consent.


Do you have to respond to police questioning?

The Fifth Amendment has been portrayed countless times in popular culture as “the right to remain silent,” but at its core, the Fifth Amendment is the right against forced self-incrimination. When being questioned by a law enforcement officer, respond truthfully to basic questions such as your name, and offer license and registration if the officer asks for it. For any more personal questions, including “Where are you going?” and “Where are you coming from?” Americans are not required by law to answer, and can exercise their Fifth Amendment right.


Lying to a law enforcement officer is a crime, but simply staying silent is well within one’s constitutional rights. When being asked any question beyond the most basic, calmly respond with something like, “I’m choosing to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”


When it comes to being questioned by the police, especially without a lawyer present, silence is golden.


How to Respond

One statement often heard on crime television shows that holds true in real life is, “Anything you say can and will be held against you.” It’s important to keep that in mind and thoroughly think through any answers and responses given to law enforcement officers. Act as if everything is being recorded, because it quite possibly is.


Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if a question is confusing. When in doubt, exercising the Fifth Amendment right is a much better option than saying something you will regret later.


Additionally, being polite to an officer can go a long way during an interaction. Don’t think of an interaction with a law enforcement officer as a battle of wits, think of it as a polite assertion of constitutional rights.


How long can the police keep you for questioning?

If they are not making an arrest, police officers in Wisconsin are not able to detain individuals longer than necessary for questioning. A police officer is required to answer the question, “Can I leave or am I being detained?” If you believe the interaction has run its course, don’t be afraid to ask.


Consult a Lawyer

Consulting with an experienced lawyer can provide peace of mind as well as steadfast advice and recommendations that could help you through a turbulent time. Everson Law has a wide breadth of experience assisting those that had a run in with the law. Contact Everson Law today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced attorneys.