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Rights During Consensual Police Encounter in Utah

Not all encounters with police officers involve an arrest, interrogation, search, or other involuntary actions. Many police encounters are voluntary interactions where a person remains free to leave or to refuse a request for consent to search. Understanding the difference between a voluntary and an involuntary encounter can be critical to protecting your rights in a Utah criminal case.

There seems to be a natural human tendency (in most people) to want to be polite and helpful. This tendency often leads people to cooperate with a police officer who wants to ask a few questions or requests consent to search. But cooperating unnecessarily with a police officer who is involved in a criminal investigation can lead to serious consequences. Even innocent individuals are sometimes charged with serious crimes based on evidence obtained through voluntary police encounters.

If you have been contacted by a police officer or believe that you may be the subject of a criminal investigation or criminal charges you should talk with an experienced criminal lawyer. Whether the charges are at the felony or misdemeanor level, the consequences can be serious. Contact us to see how the right criminal defense attorney can help you.

Can a police officer question me without a reason?

The Constitution places restrictions on when a police officer can detain you (either for questioning or under formal arrest) or search your property (car, home, person, etc.) But just as any ordinary person might approach you on the street and strike up a conversation, a police officer is legally permitted to approach under circumstances that make the encounter consensual, and ask you questions.

An officer engaging in that kind of consensual encounter does not necessarily need a reason to ask you questions. Whether you have to answer those questions, however, is a different matter.

What do I have to tell a police officer?

Utah criminal law imposes penalties against a person who makes false statements to a police officer, files a false police report, gives a false name to a police officer, or engages in obstruction of justice. But in most circumstances, the Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.

Utah criminal law requires you to disclose your real name to a police officer who has stopped you based on a reasonable suspicion that you have committed or are in the process of committing a criminal act. Courts have upheld the requirement to disclose a name as not violating the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. However a requirement that a person provide an explanation of their actions would be a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s protections.

Can I just ignore a police officer?

Just walking away from a police officer does not, by itself, give the officer a reason to detain you. But it is a factor that can be considered by the officer (and by the courts) in determining whether there was reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity.

Rather than running (or walking) away, you are more likely to avoid being chased by police if you politely tell them that you intend to exercise your Fifth Amendment rights and decline to answer any questions without your attorney present.

What if the police try to arrest me?

If police can articulate a reasonable basis for suspecting that you have been involved in criminal activity, they may detain you to investigate. If they have probable cause to support an arrest, you may be taken into custody, detained for questioning (interrogation), or booked into jail. But in any of these circumstances, you retain the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. You are legally required to give police your true name. But you are not required to answer any questions about your recent whereabouts, your conduct, or anything else beyond just your name.

If a police officer attempts to arrest you and you believe that the officer does not have grounds to do so, DO NOT RESIST. Even if it turns out that the officer was wrong, and that the arrest was not properly supported by probable cause, you can still find yourself facing criminal charges for resisting arrest or for assault on a police officer.

What if the police don’t read me my Miranda rights?

The “rights” referred to in the Miranda warnings are based on important constitutional principles. These rights exist independent of any police officer’s decision to read or not read you the Miranda warnings.

The Miranda warnings must be read only if you have been taken into custody and if the police intend to ask you investigatory questions. If police ask you questions before taking you into custody, or if you make spontaneous statements after being arrested, the Miranda requirements do not apply.

If police fail to comply with the requirements of Miranda, the answers you give to police in response to a custodial interrogation may suppressed by the court. But the better course of action if you find yourself subject to questioning by police is to politely inform the officer that you are exercising your Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and that you will not be answering any questions without first having your attorney present.

Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney in Utah

Utah Criminal Defense LawyerIf you are the target of a police investigation, if you have been arrested, or if you have been charged with a crime in Utah, the most important decision you can make may involve choosing the right criminal defense attorney to handle your case. Contact us today to see how an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney can help you.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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