What To Say To Police Officers?
If you are in a burning building and rescued by a police officer, its simple. You say "thank you for saving my live, you're my hero," and you mean every word. Most people take it for granted that police and firefighters risk their lives to help people they don't even know. We say their heroic act is beyond the call of duty. Officers are humble and say, "just doing my job." But what do you say to the police officer who stops your car on the highway at night, blue lights flashing? A much more common scenario for everyone.
As a criminal defense attorney in Massachusetts, almost all my clients find themselves in court because of what they say to police officers. And what you say to police when they stop you driving or walking down the street affects everything that happens next.
Here are some tips you can use. Don't worry, they are legal-- you won't be breaking any laws if you use them.
SHOW THEM YOUR HANDS
Police have a dangerous job, and their own safety is their first concern. When they approach you, they have no idea if you have a weapon or are dangerous. Make sure you show them your hands and don't make any movements that are quick or concealing. These are the things police officers look for first. They simple need to know if you are a threat to them. If you are in a car, it can be dark in there. Put your hands on the steering wheel, and don't try to hide anything under the seat. If you do not show them quickly that you are no threat, it is lely you will be ordered out of the car almost immediately.
Good morning, officer; good evening, officer. That's how you greet a police officer, plain and simple. That doesn't mean you like police. etc. It just shows you respect the job they do (remember saving you from the burning house?). If you give respect, you are likely to be respected in return. Respecting you means treating you like a human being rather than having an attitude about you. Treating a police officer with respect doesn't guarantee they will reciprocate, but it gives them a reason to. Officers have discretion whether to arrest you or let you go on with your life right then. Respect can influence their decision; sometimes, but not always.
WHAT IS THE POLICE OFFICER'S INTENTION
First, the officer wants to determine if you are armed or dangerous, and then whether you need emergency medical attention. They decide those two things in the first minute or two. After that, they are trying to determine what happened that caused them to stop you. What did you or someone else do?
The officer must decide whether to take you into custody or to let you go.
You can answer the simple questions, like what is your name and where do you live. But sometimes, before you say anything, the police officer has decided to take you into custody, based on what the officer saw with their own eyes, like if he or she sees you drive and hit another car and then drive off. The officer doesn't need to ask you questions to decide whether to take you into custody, they have seen enough.
The police officer, however, will certainly ask you some questions. They are looking for information, and will use any information you give them against you. They are trained how to ask you questions and how to get you to talk with them. By the way, police officers are not usually required to "read you your rights" at this stage.
A: WHAT SHOULD I DO? A: DON'T ANSWER QUESTIONS!
When the police officer is asking you questions, they aren't being friendly and they aren't making conversation. Their goal is to get information from you. They will use your own words against you, When you tell things to police, your statements to them are often admissible against you at trial. You are not required to speak with a police officer other than to identify yourself to them. That's it! Our federal and state constitutions tell us that you have the right to remain silent. Police officers are highly skilled at getting you to talk to them, and you always have the choice to keep quiet
So, what do you do when the officer asks you anything but your name and address? My simple recommendation as a criminal defense attorney is to say nothing. Or something like this, "Officer, I would like to help you. My attorney has told me not to answer any questions, and I am not going to speak with you." Saying these words is hard to do. We are trained to respond to authority, to answer questions and be nice. You can be nice, but be strong. Remember, you must protect your own rights here. You have the right to remain silent and everything you say can and will be used against you.
Here is a quick tipe for OUI motor vehicle stops: the so-called standardized field sobriety tests are optional, not mandatory. Don't take them. Likewise with the portable breath test by the side of the road, don't take that test either. Under Massachusetts law, you are not required by law to take either test. If the police officer thinks you have been drinking and sees any physical behavior that looks like impairment by alcohol, you will be taken into custody, even if you refuse the field sobriety tests and the portable breath test.
Should you take the breath test at the police station? This is what I tell my OUI clients, "If you have not had anything to drink for the past 24 hours, the breath test should show no alcohol. But there are no guarantees. But if if you have had any alcohol in the past 24 hours, refuse to take the breath test. The refusal to take the breath test will mean you will lose your Massachusetts driver's license for at least 6 months, but it will make it more difficult for the government to convict you of drunk driving. And a conviction will result in much harsher penalties and expense than the loss of license.
If you follow my suggestions, the police officer may take you into custody anyway or may have you summonsed to court for a criminal offense. But if you do not speak with the police officer and refuse to answer their questions, it will make it much more difficult for the government to prove its case against you.
David Singer is a criminal defense attorney in Massachusetts. Please call 978 287 4700 to speak with David.