Your Rights when Arrested or Questioned by Police in NJ

Dark interrogation room with switched-on lamp, 3d rendering.

Police Have Questions? Know Your Rights.

No matter how many times people have heard the advice not to speak to the police without a lawyer present, they too frequently believe they can convince the police of their innocence by explaining themselves or that they must cooperate and talk to the police. However, the advice to not speak to police without your attorney present is worthy wisdom and should not be forgotten in moments of stress. To clarify when this issue may arise and exactly what your rights are, let’s examine a few common questions about what to do when you are arrested or questioned by police in New Jersey.

If I Am Stopped, Do I Have to Answer Basic Questions From a Police Officer?

If you are stopped in a motor vehicle, you must produce proper documentation including your driver’s license and registration. After that point, you do not need to answer any questions from law enforcement. In New Jersey, if you are stopped on the street while on foot, then you are not required to produce identification or even provide your name unless the police are issuing you a court summons. Police can’t simply approach you and search you for drugs or a weapon without probable cause or a warrant.

Do I Have to Go Down to the Station for Questioning if Police Ask Me to?

No. Not only do you not need to answer questions from the police, but you do not need to voluntarily go to the police station at all. Too often, people think that if they cooperate with the police, the police will not be suspicious of them or they will be able to prove their innocence by simply providing an explanation. However, the truth is, anything that you say can be used against you. If police are investigating you, they may be waiting for you to say something that strengthens their case against you.

Keep in mind, if the police had enough evidence against you, they would not be asking you to come to the station—they would be placing you under arrest. If they are asking you to come to the station and answer questions, they do not have enough evidence to establish probable cause to arrest you and speaking to the police will not help you, it can only potentially harm you. This is often the case when dealing with accusations of sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, criminal sexual contact, and other sex crimes.

Most importantly, you have a constitutional right against self-incrimination and that includes not making statements to the police that could later be held against you in court.

If the Police Are Responding to a Crime Tip or a Call, Do I Need to Answer Their Questions?

No. For the same reasons stated above, you do not have to speak to the police or answer any questions from law enforcement. For example, perhaps someone said they saw a person who meets your description in the vicinity of a robbery or burglary – you do not need to justify or explain your whereabouts. Even in an emergency situation, you always maintain your 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and should never speak to the police without an attorney present.

If I’m Arrested, Do I Have to Answer Police Questions?

First, if you are placed under arrest, whether or not you believe you are innocent or the arrest is lawful, you should remain calm and not resist arrest. Second, if ever there was a time to remember that you should not speak to police without your lawyer present, it is when you are arrested. In the very stressful and emotional moments during and after an arrest, it can feel natural to want to defend yourself, but you should absolutely resist that urge.

This is true even if you yourself work in law enforcement, have a relative who works in law enforcement, or work in the legal field. Sometimes, it is individuals in these fields who become too confident in their knowledge or relationships and believe they can talk their way out of a bad situation. No matter what the circumstances are or who you are, you should never answer questions from the police without a lawyer present.

If you find out there is a warrant for your arrest, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. Without delay, you need to work with your attorney to arrange a voluntary surrender. Although you do need to surrender yourself when facing an outstanding warrant, once you are processed at the police station, you are not required by law to answer any questions from the police. Your best course of action is to hire an attorney who can demand the discovery (evidence) against you and begin crafting the most effective defense against your charges.

New Brunswick Criminal Defense Lawyers for Clients Facing Police Questioning in Middlesex County

If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense or contacted by the police to answer questions about an investigation, remember to invoke your 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. Then, it is important to find defense counsel who will protect your rights throughout the legal process and combat the allegations you face. To discuss your case, contact the experienced criminal defense lawyers at William Proetta Criminal Law for a free consultation. With offices in Edison, we defend clients arrested and questioned by police in New Brunswick, Piscataway, Woodbridge, South Brunswick, Monroe Township, and throughout Middlesex County.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.