Many people become nervous when approached and questioned by the police, and they feel compelled to cooperate with the questioning.

Keep in mind that anything you tell the police can be used against you. You have the Fifth Amendment constitutional right to remain silent, which means that you are not required to give the police information that could lead to your arrest. You can exercise your right by politely saying, “I want to remain silent.”

What to do next?

The best thing to do is tell the officer that you will only answer questions if your attorney is present. You have the constitutional right to consult with an attorney before answering questions, whether or not the police inform you of such a right. Therefore, the police should stop inquiring until an attorney is present.

Is it illegal not to answer police questions?

It is not illegal not to respond to a police officer’s questions unless he or she has a warrant for your arrest or probable cause to believe that you committed a crime. However, you may be arrested and charged with “obstruction of justice” (also known as making a false statement) if you lie to the police, so it is best to remain silent until your attorney is present.

Can I refuse to identify myself to the police?

Some states have “detection and identification” laws that require a person suspected of being involved in a crime to provide identification to the police, making refusal to comply a crime. However, California does not have such a law, and the police cannot arrest someone for refusing to identify themselves or to present identification without good cause.

That said, you need to be practical and think about the entire police encounter. If you are aware that you are innocent of any criminal charges, then go ahead and answer the questions from the police, but be careful.

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