“I was wrongly convicted of murder. I spent nearly 17 years in prison fighting my case. When I finally won a new trial, I chose Greg Robey to be a part of my defense team. He found an FBI agent who had worked on the case in the 1980s, along with critical pieces of evidence that we thought were long lost. After a long and very hard-fought trial, I was found Not Guilty of all charges. I owe my freedom to Greg Robey and my defense team.” -R.R., Ravenna, Ohio
Many people are unaware of the rights they possess if police officers approach and question them. In the absence of certainty, they often err on the side of complete cooperation and say something that could self-incriminate. Although it is important to be polite to officers, citizens do have rights when police stop and question them.
Police officers have a great deal of discretion in who they approach for questioning. Suppose, for instance, that you’re walking down the street, minding your own business. Police have the right to approach you and ask you questions. However, just because you are approached does not mean you are suspected of committing a crime. In these situations, you retain an important right — the right to silence. Officers may ask you questions, but in most situations, you do not have to answer them. You may simply and politely decline.
There is an exception to this right. In April 2006, the Ohio legislature passed a law stating that when individuals are in a public sphere and approached by police officers, they must give their name, address or date of birth. This exception applies when a person is either reasonably suspected of committing a criminal offense or reasonably suspected of having witnessed a crime. In the absence of these circumstances, a person has no duty to disclose this information when merely approached for questioning.
Even if officers stop you in a manner that makes it clear that they do suspect you have committed a crime, you may invoke your right to silence. You can do this by saying something to the effect of, “I refuse to answer any questions,” or “I invoke my right to silence.” You may also request to speak to your attorney, at which point officers are no longer allowed to ask you any further questions, even if you’re under arrest.
It’s important not to feel intimidated when law enforcement officers are questioning you. Although you should be cooperative and polite, you have the right to remain silent at all times. Before you speak to any police officer before or after an arrest, consult a knowledgeable Cleveland criminal defense lawyer with the Law Office of Gregory S. Robey.