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Police Questioning Prior To Arrest
There are many circumstances in Oklahoma where questioning by the police is inappropriate and sometimes may result in criminal charges being filed against a person who is not guilty. Knowing your rights under Oklahoma law may save you from untold hassles by law enforcement.
If you haven't been arrested, but a police officer wants to question you about a crime, what should you do?
Can I refuse to answer questions?
Refusing to answer a police officer's questions is not a crime. Of course, people often voluntarily assist the police by supplying information that might help the police make an arrest. But the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the "right of silence." A police officer generally cannot arrest a person simply for failure to respond to questions. This means that unless a police officer has "probable cause" to make an arrest or a "reasonable suspicion" to conduct a "stop and frisk," a person approached by the police officer has the legal right to walk away. But the fact that there may be a legal right to walk away doesn't mean this is a wise move. This is because there is no real way to tell what information the officer is using as a basis for his or her actions. In fact, the officer may have information that gives him or her a valid legal basis to make an arrest or to conduct a "stop and frisk," even if the individual is, in truth, innocent of any wrongdoing. If that is the case, an officer may forcibly detain an innocent individual who starts to leave the scene of an interview. Common sense and self-protection suggest that people who intend to walk away from a police officer make sure that the officer does not intend to arrest or detain them. A good question might be, "Officer, I'm in a hurry, and I'd prefer not to talk to you right now. You won't try to stop me from leaving, right?" If the officer replies that the person is not free to leave, the person should remain at the scene and leave the question of whether the detention is correct to the courts at a later time. (See Deciding Whether to Answer Pre-Arrest Questions below)
Miranda Warnings and Pre-Arrest Questioning
People are often surprised to learn that if a person hasn't yet been arrested, the police may question the person and use the answers in court without first providing the familiar "Miranda warning" that advises people of their constitutional right to not answer questions and to have an attorney present if they do decide to talk to police officers. In fact, the Miranda warning is required only if the person being questioned is in custody.
Deciding Whether to Answer Pre-Arrest Questions
Whether or not to respond to police questioning generally depends on the person's possible relationship to criminal activity, the person's views of his or her civic responsibilities, and the person's past experiences with the police. If, however, the questioning involves events that may result in criminal charges against the person being questioned, the almost universal advice of a defense attorneys is: DO NOT SAY ANYTHING! Suspects all too frequently unwittingly reveal information that can later be used as evidence of their guilt. The right to not incriminate oneself guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is especially powerful in this situation. A person who has reason to believe that he or she is a potential suspect should politely decline to answer questions, without the presence of an attorney or the ability to at least consult an attorney.
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