More on "Never talk to cops."

I put this into GQ hoping there is a factual answer rather than a debate over the issues.

In previous threads we have discussed LEO use of authority an how it (intentionally or unintentionally) makes people believe they MUST cooperate with the police by answering questions. We also discussed (especially post-Salinas) the issue that while the officer may be well aware if you are a suspect or just gathering information, the person being questioned does not and therefore when the officer asks, “Did you know John Dough?” there is no way of knowing if it is an interrogation or not.

Now the magic words in these cases involve “Am I free to go?” or “Am I being detained?” The issue I’ve brought up a few times and which never seem to get answered is that the police don’t have to answer the question. Maybe Loach and pkbites can go into more detail but there are ample examples online of conversations where a person uses the magic words and the officer refuses to give a straightforward yes or no which based on the evidence I assume is legal. Maybe the lawyers on board can fill in at what point does the officer have to answer you with a yes or no.

Now for the GQ: Since we have established that the officer does not have to reply “Yes.” or “No.” when I ask “Am I free to go?” or “Am I being detained?” and can in fact continue questioning me - what would happen if instead I say “I want to speak to an attorney.”
If I’m not a suspect, can they continue questioning me?
If they continue questioning me and during the questioning I become a suspect, does my request for an attorney carry over or do I need to ask again?
If they refuse to let me speak to an attorney, can I assume that I can leave i.e. clearly I’m not being interrogated?
Is requesting an attorney ever probable cause for a search? Like if a cop pulls me over and asks to look in my trunk and I say, “No. I’d like to speak to an attorney.” can the officer use my request as suspicious behavior and now search my trunk?

I am amazed at how little persons, including myself, know about such things. There is a 20/20 episode(s?) [Stream *Compliance *at Netflix, an example of one of 70 such incidents.] about the problems created by talking to persons just impersonating cops. I can imagine talking to cops could result in much worse happening.

I was once witness to an automobile incident, no damage, no injuries, no tickets issued, and two years later I got dragged into a deposition that cost me half a day’s pay and all I did was give the officer my name and address.

Never. If you’re not sure if you’re being detained or not, it is good to ask. If the cop refuses to answer, the answer is probably “no”. (Since they have no reason not to tell you, if you are.)


They can continue asking questions, whether you’re a suspect or not.

You’re thinking of Miranda. Miranda applies only if you’ve been arrested. It doesn’t apply to cases where you’ve merely been detained, or where you haven’t even been detained (you’re supposedly free to go.)

Even if you’ve been arrested, Miranda does not say the police must stop asking questions (after you’ve asked for an attorney); it merely that your answers can’t be used against you in court.

No. Police may detain someone without arresting them. For example, if you’ve ever been stopped for a traffic ticket, you were detained, but not arrested. (“Do you know how fast you were going? May I see your DL and insurance?”) Asking for an attorney won’t stop them from doing that.

The officer can do whatever he wants; he’s got a gun and a badge.

Whether he actually had probable cause (or merely thought he did) is decided later by a judge. Merely saying “no” to a cop’s request to look through your stuff is never probable cause, by itself. If it was, it would render the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures meaningless.

Need answer really really fast?

One suggestion I’ve seen mentioned in one of those “Never talk to cops” videos somewhere:

If the cop won’t tell you if you’re being arrested (or detained), just try to leave. If you are then forcibly prevented from leaving, you’re being arrested or detained.

Thats not important. Even if you are arrested , detained, or not, you don’t have to speak.

Do not speak. Police know how to ask all the questions that sound good, on their and own and as a set, but even if you answer all them with the full truth of answer to them all, you won’t have answered with a
a. full story
b. the important part where you give strong evidence toward innocence
Then the cops that their to the superiors and to any intermediate court hearings, and say you were EVASIVE… you didn’t actually defend yourself … and then at trial that the reason you didn’t defend yourself to the police was that you invented your defense later !

Many years ago I was talking to a guy who was a drug dealer. His attorney was a prominent figure of the type that makes you assume his client is guilty. His attorney told him basically what Isilder said, “Don’t say anything at all, not even to deny things.”

He felt that the odds were so stacked against the police that, without the cooperation of the accused, it was really difficult for them to get a conviction. The example he gave was the police find drugs in your home. If you say absolutely nothing they don’t know what your defense will be - not my drugs, not my home, not drugs at all, not responsible for my actions, the drugs were planted etc. The police, without any statement from the accused, need physical evidence to disprove every one of those defenses.

The proof of how correct his assertions are is that his clients seem never to be convicted.

And people wonder why everyone hates lawyers :smiley:

If the LEO will not give you an answer, slowly walk away.

The smart thing is to preface this by saying “you’re not answering me, so I’m going to assume I’m free to go.” If a dispute arises over your departure, you can then honestly say that you gave the officer fair notice that you intended to leave, i.e. you weren’t spontaneously fleeing.

Well, to the extent that they don’t answer your question, you don’t have to answer theirs, either.
If the only thing you ever say in response to any question is “Am I free to go?”, after a few repetitions the cops will probably stop asking questions and give you an answer. (I’d add a few polite acknowledgements and “with all due respect, officer” and so forth of course, but end everything with “am I free to go now?”)

Now it’s quite possible the cop gets pissed off and never gives you a firm “No”, but once you’ve gone through the question/response routine a few times and they’ve clearly stopped asking questions you can then start on the “OK, I assume I am free to go. I am walking away now.” routine. The advantage here is that it’s crystal clear to everyone what’s happening, which keeps the cop from honestly feeling threatened or that you were trying to evade the cops and also keeps the cop from claiming he felt threatened or that you were trying to evade the cops.

And cops.

What about when you’re being prevented from leaving, but you’re not being forcibly prevented?

Here’s what I mean: I often see on television where the detainee asks the LEO, “Am I free to go now?”, and the LEO answers: “Sure, we’re not arresting you. But think about this – Aaaa, bbbb, xyz…” And the detainee is devastated by the accusations and evidence - whether real or invented - and he ends up caving in.

How real is that? Does it ever happen in real life? From the posts here and elsewhere, it seems that even in real life, the police are quite skilled at bullying a person into believing that silence is NOT in his best interest. So – is it Hollywood, or is it real?

If you are being prevented from leaving in any way, you are being detained, and don’t have to answer any questions. If you’re not being detained, you still don’t have to answer any questions.

It happens. And yes, you are correct that the police are good at getting you to answer questions. That’s their job - yours is to know your rights.

But if you ask “Am I free to go?” and the police respond by telling you about all the evidence they have against you, get up and leave. If they have that much evidence, why wouldn’t they arrest you?

My example of such a scenario is something I read in the book Homicide: Life ont he Street (it was a book first). People were at the police station. One of them stood up and asked the officers “Am I under arrest?” The police responded “Do you want to be? If not, sit down.” AFAICT, that answer is synonymous with “Yes, you are under arrest”. So you say nothing. You’re being detained, if nothing else.

Yes, if you are being detained, they can ask you anything they want. You do not have to answer them. You have the right not to answer. You don’t have the right not to be asked (if you are only being detained).

You don’t have the right to an attorney until you are arrested.

No. The police can detain you without arresting you, in order to ask you questions. You do not have to answer the questions.

This one I know - no, refusal to answer questions, nor asking for an attorney (if you have been arrested), may not be made the basis for a search.

Obviously it gets cloudy - the cop can search your car if he arrests you, but he has to have articulable probable cause for the arrest apart from your refusal to consent to a search. That’s one of the things they are fishing for when they question you - trying to get you to say something stupid so they can arrest/search you (if they decide that this is appropriate).

The thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to answer a cop’s questions. Whether you are detained or not, whether you are arrested or not, no matter what the cop says - you do not have to answer any questions besides your name, address, and birth date.

You may not lie - but you don’t have to answer.


As a former LE officer/investigator, my advice would be: if you or a loved one are, or might be, involved in less-than-legal activities, say nothing other than identifying yourself, or possibly inquiring as to the nature of the investigation so that you’ll get information for yourself.

However, let’s look at the big picture, and practicality: there was a burglary yesterday two houses down from you. I show up at your door as Mr. Policeperson, and identify myself appropriately, and say: “There was a burglary yesterday in your neighborhood. Did you see any unusual or suspicious vehicles on the street yesterday afternoon?”

Now, if you adopt the “never say anything to cops” tactic, and don’t say anything even if you did see a weird white van with blacked-out windows, what greater good does that serve?

Because they DON’T have enough evidence. At least, they don’t have it yet. They’re still looking for some evidence, and they want you to voluntarily stay at the police station while they [del]plant some evidence[/del] continue their search. So what they say is, “No, you’re not under arrest, yet. But if you leave, we can make your life pretty miserable. I have a reporter who can mention some of the things we think you’re doing. Or we can ask your wife why you were at so-and-so’s house.” etc etc etc

[sarcasm] It shows that your loyalty is where it should be: with the burglars, not the cops. And you implicitly raise the middle finger to your victimzed neighbor. [/sarcasm] :mad::mad:

This makes sense but for those who aren’t involved in any shady activities (or, I suppose, a minority) I don’t understand the paranoia. The most illegal things I’ve done in my adult life are minor traffic violations. I wouldn’t mind answering questions from a cop.

Actually, the innocent are the ones with more reason to be paranoid around cops. The worst that can happen to a guilty person is, they will get what is coming to them. But an innocent man could be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, which is far worse than what happens to the guilty man.

Anyone else notice the thread title is “Moron, never talk to cops”?

That seems kind of backwards to me. The outcome (conviction of a crime) is equally bad for both but much much more likely for the actual criminal.