Police officers are not always fair or considerate of civil rights during interrogations. As a suspect in custody, it is up to you to protect yourself from infringements upon your rights. Knowing what to expect, what to do, and who to turn to for trustworthy advice can make a big difference to your criminal case in Pennsylvania. From the moment of your arrest to the final hearing, your actions and choices matter to your overall well-being.
Before police can arrest a suspect, they must have probable cause to do so. Police offers need a reasonable belief that the suspect has committed a crime. Otherwise, it is unlawful to make an arrest without a warrant. Warrants do not require probable cause; but the warrant must establish that the person the warrant names committed the crime. Similarly, police may stop someone to question him or her on the streets, but may only do so under a good faith belief that a crime involved the person.
Even if an officer does not have probable cause or a warrant for your arrest or questioning, comply with commands and do not resist arrest. You may calmly ask the reason for the interrogation or arrest, and tell the officers they do not have probable cause to make the arrest, but you should never resist an arrest. Instead, stay calm and polite and obey all commands. Do not answer questions or admit any guilt. Instead, wait for the opportunity to call a criminal defense lawyer, and decline answering questions until your attorney is present.
A Miranda warning is a requirement of the United States Constitution. It states that once police detain an individual (either upon arrest or any time prior to questioning), they must give certain warnings to the detainee. It is unlawful for police to begin an interrogation without first giving the detainee his or her Miranda warning. Police must give the warning in full. It typically starts with, “You have the right to remain silent.”
The Miranda warning lists a person in custody’s right to refuse to speak to police. It also explains that should the detainee choose to say anything or answer interrogation questions, the officers will have the ability to use what the detainee says against him or her in a court of law. Miranda rights also inform the detainee of his or her right to an attorney. It explains that if the detainee cannot afford an attorney, the courts will appoint a public defender.
If police fail to give the Miranda warning prior to asking a detainee questions or beginning an interrogation, they cannot use any answers or information given during the session against the detainee during a criminal trial. A prosecutor may still bring charges against the suspect, but the prosecutor cannot use any evidence gathered during questioning as evidence against the suspect.
The Right to Remain Silent
Take your Miranda rights seriously. Do not answer any police interrogation questions if you believe something you say could incriminate you. Note, however: you must give your name if police ask for it. Give your name, but do not feel pressured to respond beyond your name. Even if police promise leniency or say something is off the record, wait until you have an attorney present to answer interrogation questions while in custody.
It is unlawful for police to use coercion – either physical or psychological – during interrogations. Any evidence that comes from coercion is inadmissible during a trial. It is legal, however, for police to lie, deceive, trick, and use non-coercive tactics in an effort to obtain a confession. Be wary during police interrogations, and keep your right to remain silent in mind. It is always in your best interests to discuss your situation with a criminal defense lawyer before agreeing to answer questions in a police interrogation.