A recent case from neighboring Pennsylvania serves as a reminder to those in New Jersey that it's important to understand your rights when you're questioned by police.
According to news reports, the defendant there had spoken with police twice about a fire that resulted in the death of an elderly woman. He was not handcuffed or placed under arrest in either instance, and according to police testimony, he voluntarily spoke with investigators on both occasions after waiving his right to remain silent. He was eventually arrested and charged with homicide and arson, among other things.
The article reports that the defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements to police on the grounds that the defendant has a lower-than-average IQ and lacked the capacity to understand and waive his rights.
It's Important to Be Aware of Your Rights When Police Seek to Question You
An encounter with a police officer or investigator who wants to ask you questions about anything can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Your heart may race, your breathing may increase, and you may begin to wonder what you've done wrong and whether you are required to answer their questions. While your rights in this situation can vary slightly depending on whether or not you are in a car when you're stopped, it can be very helpful to understand in advance what your rights are in different situations.
If Stopped by Police While Driving
If you're stopped and questioned while in your car, you do have to show police your license, the vehicle registration, and your auto insurance card. If suspected of DUI, you may have to take a breathalyzer test (or risk losing your driving privileged if you refuse).
Your Rights in General When Stopped or Questioned by Police
Beyond what you are required to provide police when stopped while in your car, you have certain general rights:
- You have the right to refuse a police request to search your car, your home, or yourself.
- You may ask the police if you are free to leave. If they say that you are and you do not want to speak with the police, you may leave.
- You are not required to answer questions from the police.
- Unless the police are issuing you a summons, you do not have to show them your ID or tell them your name.
If you are arrested, call a lawyer and tell the police that you will remain silent. Say as little as possible until you have a chance to speak with your lawyer about why you were arrested and what is likely to happen next.
The Sooner You Receive Legal Advice, the Better
Police are good at asking questions, and many of us are by nature inclined to want to cooperate with law enforcement, even when it may not be in our best interests to do so. If you are under investigation by the police – even if you've not been arrested – you should contact Joseph D. Lento and discuss your situation with him. Having a skilled criminal defense attorney by your side who knows how the criminal justice system in New Jersey works and who can advise you about what types of questions you should and should not answer can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the situation. Contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or via our online contact form today to learn more about how we can help.