If you watch police dramas at all, then you’ve almost certainly seen one of the cop characters threaten someone by telling them that if they don’t cooperate with an investigation, they’ll be charge with obstruction of justice. But refusing to talk to the police isn’t just your right, it’s also your best course of action when being questioned without your defense attorney present.
Is Refusing to Answer Questions Obstruction of Justice?
Despite what television shows would lead you to believe, obstruction of justice charges cannot be applied to someone simply because they don’t actively help the police solve a crime. In order to be considered “obstructing” justice, you have to actually be working to get in the way of an investigation, not just refusing to help it.
For example, while not answering an officer’s question is not a crime, lying to a police officer is obstruction of justice if it may make it more difficult for them to solve a crime. This is yet another reason why you should always insist on always having your criminal lawyer present whenever you talk to the police -it’s much better to stay silent than to commit a crime by lying to the police.
Refusing to Speak to the Police and Your Rights
Not speaking to the police is actually your right. The constitution protects citizens from self-incrimination and since most police interviews actually are there to help them identify and obtain evidence against a suspect, you cannot be forced to speak to them, even if they claim you’re not under investigation. This advice doesn’t just apply to those with something to hide either. The line between being a witness and a suspect is often difficult to detect. The police may start an interview with a witness they later determine to be a suspect.
A Lawyer Can Provide a Necessary Buffer
Even if you really want to help assist an investigation (for example, if your spouse has been murdered or is missing), it is still best to work with a lawyer in order to make sure you do not become a suspect in the process. Many innocent people have been charged with crimes simply because they said the wrong thing in front of a police officer.
Remember, it’s a lot easier to protect your rights in advance than it is to fight criminal charges after the fact, so always insist on having your attorney present when speaking with law enforcement officers. If you have any questions about obstruction of justice or your rights when dealing with the police, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation with Vista obstruction of justice lawyer Peter M. Liss.
Creative Commons Image by Oliver Duquesne