Know Your Rights: Questions and Answers about Police Questioning

Q. What do I do if the police want to talk to me?

A. At no time is there any obligation to speak to the police unless you are operating a motor vehicle or have been accused of terrorism. Even upon arrest, you are under no obligation to submit to any type of police questioning – no matter how aggressive or demanding the police act.

Once you are under arrest, you do not have to answer any questions until you have had a chance to consult with a lawyer. If, after the police inform you of your constitutional right to a lawyer and you decide to answer their questions anyway, they can use your answers against you in court.

Q. What should I say if I do not want to answer the questions the police are asking me?

A. Being arrested is a scary thing. Once you have lost your freedom, your options can seem very limited. Many people end up speaking to police even when they do not really want to, simply because they are frightened and intimidated. It is also common for law enforcement personnel to “befriend” an accused in an attempt to obtain incriminating statements. The best course of action is calmly asserting that you do not want to give a statement and that you would like to speak to a lawyer. Be respectful without compromising your legal rights.

Q. Once I refuse to answer their questions, do the police have to leave me alone?

A. The police do not have to stop asking you questions until you invoke your constitutional right to speak with a lawyer. Even after speaking to a lawyer, the police can persist in questioning you and once again it is your right and obligation to resist the police persistence.

Q. How long can the police detain me? Should I make a statement to get released as soon as possible?

A. To make a lawful arrest, the police must have a good reason – called “reasonable grounds” – to take you into custody. This means they believe you have committed a crime, which gives them the right to make the arrest in the first place. After the arrest, the law requires them to take you in front of a judge for arraignment within 24 hours. Until you appear in court, the police have a right to keep you in custody. Be very cautious when the police promise to release you only if you provide a statement.

Q. If I have information that proves my innocence, shouldn’t I tell the police about it right away?

A. Many people worry that refusing to answer questions during a police interrogation will make them look bad in a trial. When you are falsely accused of a crime, it is human nature to protest your innocence – especially when you have been caught up in the criminal justice system. It is important to remember, however, that the police have arrested you because they believe they have sufficient evidence to prove you have committed a crime. They do not, however, handle the prosecution part of a criminal case. That is a job for Crown prosecutors, who are trained to examine evidence without bias and present it to the court. If you have proof of your innocence, it is best to speak to your lawyer about it. He or she will know the best way to use it in your case.

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