Many of my clients understand that the fifth amendment insures you against having to defend yourself in court or incriminate a loved one, but few understand its meaning in context of the police. Regardless of what police tell you, you have no obligation to provide them with any information about your whereabouts or intentions because of the fifth amendment. If you aren’t obligated to incriminate yourself in a court of law, you wouldn’t be required to incriminate yourself to police.
The issues surrounding the fifth amendment and law enforcement, particularly during arrests or traffic stops, can invalidate an entire case. For instance, in Miranda vs Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled that, “detained criminal suspects, prior to police questioning, must be informed of their constitutional right to an attorney and against self-incrimination.” (Wikipedia) The result in the case was that Ernesto Miranda had his conviction of rape and murder overturned. Moreover, law enforcement agencies implement the now famous “miranda rights” whenever they arrest a suspect, informing them that they have a right to remain silent.
The impact on things like traffic stops or interrogations is more tricky. For instance, Miranda rights are only read after a suspect has been detained, meaning that the issue of whether or not a suspect could freely leave changes whether or not Miranda rights have to be read. Moreover, a person who has been stopped by police may appear suspicious if he refuses to answer any of an officer’s questions or seems deliberately vague or uncooperative with his answers. At LP Legal, we recommend that you answer an officer’s questions and be polite, however, recognize you are under no obligation to say anything incriminating about yourself or anyone you know. Simple things like saying “I don’t know” when an officer asks why he pulled you over can make your life easier when it comes to talk to an attorney.