I believe I may be under investigation for a crime and law enforcement has attempted to contact me. I don’t want to speak with them if I don’t have to, but I’m unsure of how to answer any questions they may ask.
The short answer is no, you do not need to voluntarily provide law enforcement with information or answer their questions. Under the United States Constitution, you have the right to not provide any self-incriminating information to law enforcement. You also have the right to consult with an attorney prior to any police interrogations or have an attorney present while officers question you.
Most people are familiar with the Miranda warnings and can even recite them from memory. This legal doctrine comes from Miranda v. Arizona, heard by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1966. From this case, officers are required to inform suspects of their right to remain silent, that any statements they make may be used against them, that they have the right to an attorney, and that if they cannot afford an attorney one will be provided to them. Under Miranda, unless the suspect is informed of these rights, and also clearly and intelligently waives those rights, any statements they make may not be admitted into court against them.
Police do not have to read the Miranda warnings to anyone unless they are taking the person into custody or under arrest. If a person is not taken into custody or under arrest, then any statements and interactions with the police are considered voluntary. If you are stopped by officers while out in public and questioned, you can ask the officers if they are detaining you. If their answer is “no,” then you are free to walk away. If they are detaining you, then your Miranda warnings should be given. If you voluntarily go to a police station to answer questions you are also not considered to be detained and you may leave at any time. While the Miranda warnings will not be given unless you’re in custody or detained, you still do not have to answer any questions during voluntary interactions with law enforcement. If you choose not to answer questions voluntarily, police officers may choose to arrest you if they already have probable cause against you.
It is in your best interest not to give any statements or answer any questions without first consulting with an attorney or having an attorney present during questioning. Police officers are trained in interrogation methods and allowed to lie to suspects to get them to incriminate themselves. Even if you are innocent, answering their questions without first seeking the advice of a criminal attorney can often lead to individuals making statements that may seem harmless enough but can still later be used against them.