How to Respond to Police Questioning


If the officers tell you that you are under arrest, do not fight. This will only add to your problems. Simply go with them and follow their instructions. You do not want to make them upset and hurt your chances of a better outcome.

Do Not Answer Questions

Officers will want to perform an initial investigation on scene. You have nothing to gain by telling them anything. Your words will be changed around and used against you. Even if you have not been cuffed, you still should not answer questions without an attorney present.

Assert Your Right to Remain Silent and Your Right to an Attorney

This step requires little explanation. The Constitution guarantees you both of these rights, so use them. Officers will promise the moon to you, but they will only deliver large periods of confinement.

What to do if You are Being Pulled Over After Drinking

Do Not Drink Excessively and Drive

This may seem like a simple and obvious piece of advice, but it is amazing how many people think they can drive home when they are clearly intoxicated. Barring egregious police misconduct, not even the best lawyer can get you out of this bind.

Cooperate with Police

Do not act evasively. Police will generally treat you with more respect and dignity if you are nice to them. Have your driver’s license ready when the officer approaches and always take a few deep breaths to relax so that you are not nervous when he greets you. Answer with one word answers when possible to avoid the illusion of slurred speech.

Concentrate When Asked to do the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Officers will not give you a second chance to do these tests. You must follow their directions precisely, this is something they may note of. Also, take these tests very seriously. If you perform well, you may not be asked for a breath sample.

What to Do if You are Having a Party and the Police Arrive

Quiet the Party Down

When the police knock on your door, you must quiet everyone down so that the police cannot determine how many people are there. If they feel it is a large gathering, and they suspect you of operating a tavern without a license, they may care more than if you have a few friends over.

Answer the Door Without Opening the Door

Most doors allow for conversation without being opened. Opening the door allows the police to see inside and make determinations that some other kind of criminal conduct is going on that allows them to enter without your consent. Also, do not let anyone leave. An ignorant party-goer could allow the police inside without your consent.

Do NOT Allow the Police Inside

If officers want to enter your house, tell them to get a warrant. They have no right to enter without your permission or a valid search warrant. Do not help them do their jobs.

Once the Police Have Left, End the Party

A repeat call will agitate the police and inspire them to use other kinds of tactics that you may not be equipped to deal with. Disregarding this step can lead to expensive tickets and nasty legal cases.

What to Do if You Have Been Charged with OWI

Call An Attorney

This is the easiest way to make sure you do everything to give yourself every opportunity to win your case. Always make sure you call an attorney who handles OWI cases regularly.

Request a Review Hearing

The police will give you a form that gives you 10 days to request a hearing to review your administrative suspension. You need to fill this form out and send it back to the DMV as soon as possible.

Enter a Plea of Not Guilty

Most municipal courts allow you to enter a plea via mail. Take them up on this offer to save yourself time.

Request a Jury Trial

In order to preserve your right to a jury trial, you need to request one within 10 days of your initial appearance. If you do not make this request, you forfeit your right to a jury trial.

Keep the Police Out of Your Home

Answer the Door

Obviously, if your doorbell rings, you will go see who is there. If you see officers or detectives with badges, ask why they are there.

Avoid Making a Statement

Officers will have questions for you inevitably if they are at your door. Always ask why they are there and what they need from you. If they want to know if you saw anything, you can answer. If they insinuate that you were involved, immediately stop answering and call a lawyer.

Do Not Let Them In

Your home is your castle. If officers want to enter your castle, they must get a search warrant. There are very few sacred rights in this world, but one of them is to have privacy in your house.

Smart ways to handle a traffic stop

“Silence is safer than speech.” —Epictetus (c. 50–120 A.D.)

A driver’s license is a privilege, not a right.

By accepting a license, you impliedly consent to giving a blood, breath, urine sample for testing of alcohol content if arrested for OWI. Failure to comply without legitimate (mainly medical) reasons will result in a 1 year driver’s license suspension and will count as a prior OWI even if you are acquitted or the charges reduced/dismissed.

If you have been drinking, most people are their own worst enemy.

You are NOT obligated to talk to the police and you SHOULD NOT answer questions about where you were, how many drinks you had, when you last ate/slept, etc.

If you think that you are headed for trouble, keep your mouth shut and contact your attorney immediately.

Don’t think you will talk your way out of trouble – you won’t. You will only give them information that, while seemingly harmless to you, will be manipulated and written up in the worst light possible. In other words, talking will almost always hurt you.

Do not resist, hinder or obstruct the police in any way. This will only aggravate the situation and, likely, result in criminal charges of obstructing an officer.

Be polite and diplomatic. Yelling and being confrontational is nearly always a losing strategy.

“Silence is as full of potential wisdom and wit as the unhewn marble of great sculpture. The silent bear no witness against themselves.” —Aldous Huxley

Confessions and police interrogation

Why are confessions so important to the police? It is simply this: they are a quick way to solve a crime and close a case. Often, it saves the police the hassle of doing extensive police work – searching for genuine physical evidence, interviewing potential witnesses, reviewing documents, applying for search warrants, etc.

What is most stunning is the ease with which they are able to intimidate people to talk to them and incriminate themselves. They do this through fear (of being arrested and charged), threats (subetly made with mention of jail time) and outright lying (about what evidence they have against you already). Of these, lies are the most problematic. They will often state that they have you on video committing a crime, your friends just confessed and said you were involved, that your prints are at the scene or on a weapon, etc.

Why do they lie?

Two reasons: First, the courts have said it is permitted and, second, because it works! Having obtained a defendant’s confession, a prosecutor has increased flexibility with which to work in order to secure a conviction. With confession in hand, a prosecutor is afforded the luxury of pressing the opposing attorney to resolve the case, typically through a plea bargain.

Consequently, interrogators routinely lie to individuals suspected of committing criminal acts. Moreover, interrogation manuals both prescribe and teach the effective practice of lying, in order to improve the manner in which interrogators educe confessions from suspects. Courts recognize that interrogators lie to suspects; have voiced a degree of disapproval with the practice; yet continue to accept its use, euphemistically characterizing it as deception, trickery, cajolery, or misrepresentation.

As of yet, neither the Supreme Court, nor any other court, has drawn any kind of concrete guidelines regarding the permissibility of police lying in interrogations.

In the colonial era, judges did all the questioning of suspects in open court. That is because there were not police forces as we know them – only bounty hunters. Years later, cities in the United States began to commission police officers and a resulting shift in the investigation component of the criminal justice system took place; police replaced their magistrate counterparts and assumed the questioning of individuals suspected of criminal activity.

Accompanying this shift in personnel was a shift in practice. The protections against interrogator lying inherent in the magistrates’ questioning of suspects vanished as police undertook to question suspects; “the professional status of police and the privacy of their interrogations combined to insulate police from public scrutiny.” As a result, interrogation techniques began to incorporate physical coercion and lying to elicit confessions.

As these practices came under scrutiny the Supreme Court mandated that abuse and coercion were simply not valid and any “confessions” obtained through such methods were not constitutionally “voluntary.” In 1966, in Miranda v. Arizona, the Court set forth additional procedural requirements, consistent with the 5th Amendment, that law enforcement officers were required to satisfy when questioning individuals implicated in a criminal investigation. It held that “the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.” Lying was disapproved but not specifically prohibited.

Since Miranda, the courts have dodged the question of the morality of police lying.

The courts have done this by adopting a “totality of the circumstances” approach that has the lies as only a tiny part of whether a person confesses or not. This, of course, ignores reality. The courts also don’t refer to “lies.” They talk about deceit, cajoling, trickery, etc., and then only look to see if you “will” was “overborne” by the police conduct. Routinely, they rule that the police acted “reasonably” and that any statements were “voluntary.” This is especially true if you have been arrested before – they use that by stating that you are “experienced” with the system and, therefore, understood exactly what you were doing.

Common interrogation techniques include:

  • Exaggerating the strength of their case. They tell you that they have recording, fingerprints, DNA, documents, jailhouse snitches, surveillance, eyewitnesses, etc. All of this may true or all may be false but you simply don’t know because you are isolated. They try and get to you as soon as possible to play on your fears and work that confused state of mind to their advantage.
  • Good cop, bad cop. Working in teams, one will come on strong with all the dire consequences that will happen if you don’t cooperate. Then he will be pulled off by another who will speak softly and tell you we just want to get to the “truth.”
  • Comparison. They will convince you that they think you are the least to blame for what happened and that, therefore, you will not suffer as severe a sentence. It’s the other guys they are really after and if you cooperate, they will put a good word in for you.
  • Small talk. What is critical to getting the ultimate admission is to get you talking in the first place – about anything – usually in a “friendly” manner. They will try and find something that you have in common and just have a regular conversation. Then, when you feel comfortable just talking, they will move into the area of the crime. It’s the old story about the frog – try and place him in the boiling pot and he will jump out immediately. But put him in a cold pot and then slowly turn up the heat, he will die before he knows what happened to him.
  • Threats. These are usually subtle. They mention the maximum penalties for the crime and imply that unless you roll over, you will get everyday of it. Also, they usually throw in that cooperation is looked at very favorably by a judge and your refusal will result in additional penalties.
  • Promises. They will cut a “deal” with you or “put a good word in” for you. Don’t be fooled. They have no power whatsoever to make deals – only prosecutors can do that and, even then, the judge is never bound by any bargain.

So what should you do? What’s the bottom line of all of this?

Use your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent! Despite the pressure to speak immediately, you can always make a statement later. Don’t be intimidated, or feel that silence is somehow incriminating in itself. Don’t worry about whether they will think you “did it” – they already think you did. You will only be digging your hole deeper by making a statement. Negotiating a plea bargain may be appropriate at some point but at least do yourself a favor by waiting to see what they really have against you and if there are any legal challenges to searches, physical evidence or Miranda motions.

What to do if you’re accused of a crime…

What to do if you're accused of a crime...

If you, or a loved one, is accused of a crime:

  1. Contact a lawyer. Get in touch with an experienced, criminal defense lawyer immediately. You can speak with Birdsall Law Offices, S.C. by using our secure online form to request a free consultation or you can contact us by phone.
  2. Do not discuss the case with anyone. Don’t talk about the situation or events with friends, family, cellmates, police, social workers or ANYONE. You may turn all of these people into witnesses. The ONLY person you should talk to is your criminal defense attorney since there is an attorney-client privilege that shields your comments from admission in court.
  3. Do not contact any victims. There is usually a “no contact” order in place and you could be charged with “Bail Jumping” or even “Intimidation of a Witness.” This includes contact by phone, in writing or through 3rd persons.
  4. Write out your version of events as soon as possible. Write down everything that happened: who, what, when, where, and “who says so.” Include all details while they are still fresh in your mind, such as: a map of the crime scene, witness names and addresses, police agencies involved, and the contents of any statements you may have made to the police or anyone else.
  5. Obtain documents. Obtain whatever documents you can from the police or prosecutors until you are able to retain counsel. The more that you know about the allegations and the people that are making them, the better you can defend yourself.
  6. Don’t hide anything from your lawyer. Be completely and totally honest with your attorney — there is no value in hiding something and then have your lawyer get blind-sided in court.