Most of us have heard the phrase “you have the right to remain silent” somewhere, probably in the movies and on television. However, not everyone actually understands the broad rights that are granted to you under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Almost all of the time, when dealing with Utah police, the Constitution gives you the right to keep your mouth shut and not answer any questions. Below, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer at Overson Law, PLLC explains what you are and are not required to tell the police and how you should handle yourself if the police want to question you.
When Do I Have to Answer an Officer’s Questions in Utah?
Contrary to popular belief, you are almost never required to answer questions posed to you by police officers. This applies whether you are approached on the street, called up on the phone, or arrested and brought into the police station. You can simply choose to remain silent. There are a few exceptions to this rule.
Stop and Identify Laws in Utah
Utah, like many other states in the country, has passed what is known as a “stop and identify” law. This law allows a police officer who has reasonable suspicion that a person has committed a crime to ask them to identify themselves. You are only obligated to provide your name and address. The law also speaks about having you provide an “explanation of your actions,” but because this information could incriminate you, you do not need to reply.
It is important to note that police may not just approach random people on the streets and ask them for identifying information. They must have some specific, articulable reason to have reasonable suspicion that the person committed a crime. This is a fairly low standard, but it is a standard, nonetheless. You do not need to provide your actual identification document to the police but rather must merely give your name and address. If you fail to disclose your name and the court finds that there was reasonable suspicion for the officer to speak to you, you could be charged with the class B misdemeanor of “failure to disclose identity.” Penalties for this charge can include up to 180 days in jail and fines up to $1,900.
Driving Stops in Utah
The other situation where you may be required to answer an officer’s questions is when you are stopped while driving a vehicle. When you sign up for a driver’s license you agree to give up certain rights. If you are pulled over for suspicion of committing a driving offense, you are required to provide the officer with certain information including your driver’s license, registration, and insurance card. Technically, you do not have to actually speak and can just hand them this information, but it is best to be polite. You do not, however, have to answer any further questions about where you were going, why you were speeding, etc.
Utah law also requires you to comply with certain tests if you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While you can refuse to take part in the roadside balance tests, if you are arrested you are mandated by law to submit to a breath test at the station to figure out your blood alcohol content (BAC) level, and, in the case of suspected drug use, may be required to submit urine and blood samples as well.
Why it is Never a Good Idea to Speak to the Police Without Your Lawyer
Aside from the above situations, the police can never compel you to speak to them. However, this does not mean they will not try to get you to talk by making you believe it is best for you or lulling you into a false sense of security. It is common for people to feel that there is no reason to refuse to talk to the police if they are innocent and have nothing to hide. This, however, is faulty reasoning that can lead to problems for you down the line.
Consider the following scenario: the police turn up at your doorstep asking you questions about a kidnapping that occurred in your neighborhood. You were not involved in the kidnapping, so you figure there is no reason not to cooperate and answer their questions. In the course of the questioning, you casually reveal that you take a walk at the local park every morning at 7 AM. Little do you know, this is the exact time and place that the kidnapping occurred, and now you are a prime suspect.
The best thing you can do if you are approached by the police to come in for an interview, or if you arrested and the police are trying to ask you questions, is to ask for a lawyer. An experienced Murray criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC will have been through hundreds of police interrogations before. They will know when to advise you to answer and not answer and what sort of questions are “traps” by the police intended to try to slip you up. Until your attorney is present, you should continue to say nothing to the officers except “I want a lawyer.”
Call Our Experienced Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Lawyers Today for a Free Consultation About Police Questioning
As a law-abiding citizen, your first instinct when approached by the authorities is probably going to be to cooperate with them and answer any questions they may have. You may even believe that you are required by law to answer all questions posed to you by police officers. However, aside from the limited circumstances detailed above, it is never a good idea to speak freely with officers investigating a crime. Whether or not they explicitly tell you so, the reason they are speaking with you is almost certainly that they have some suspicion about your involvement in the crime. At Overson Law, PLLC, our experienced Riverton City criminal defense attorneys are here to advise you on what you should say to the police in Utah and to be by your side for any interrogations that might occur. For a free consultation, give us a call today at (801) 758-2287.