Cooperating with Police Doesn’t Mean You Have to Talk

I have been a criminal defense trial attorney for 15 years and the one piece of information everyone must know in the United States is that no police officer can force you to talk to them. Additionally, if you do not know if you should say something, for ANY reason, consult an attorney before speaking. If you are in a situation where an attorney is not available, then DO NOT TALK until you do have an available attorney. 

After I tell this to most people, the next question I am asked is, “But I thought I need to COOPERATE with the police.” 

Do I have to talk to the police to be considered cooperative?

No – absolutely not.  You can move or act as commanded without talking to the police. In order to exercise your right not to speak, the most you should have to say is, “I am not speaking to you without a lawyer.”  Cooperating with police lawful commands does not require you to give up any of your Constitutional rights. 

Do you have to do what police COMMAND you to do?

Yes, you must follow lawful command and you can do it without speaking. If they ASK you do something you can decline. 

Do you have to provide your driver’s license to the police?

Yes, if the police request your Driver’s License when you are driving, you must provide it because Virginia Code 46.2-104 requires that you carry your valid driver’s license while operating a vehicle. Providing a driver’s license does not require you to speak. Do not speak with the police while providing your driver’s license. 

Pro Tip: When you are the driver, always have your license, registration and proof of insurance handy in the event that you are pulled over. The quicker you can provide this, the shorter the police encounter and you are signaling to the officer that you are a knowledgeable and lawful citizen.

Do you have to get out of the car?

Yes, if you are told to get out of your vehicle after being lawfully stopped, you must get out of your vehicle. You will not know whether the stop was lawful or not, and you must assume in the moment of the police investigation that you were lawfully stopped.  Exiting a vehicle does not require you to speak. Remain calm and silent. Do not talk to the police if they request you to exit the vehicle – they are investigating you for criminal activity. If you are out of the vehicle, you are likely to be arrested no matter what you do. Do not make the situation more difficult for yourself by talking to the police.

Do I have to do Field Sobriety Tests to be cooperative?

No. If you are asked to do Standardized Field Sobriety Tests you can (and should) say “No”. If you are asked to blow into a Preliminary Breath Test (“PBT”), you can (and should) as “No”. 

So often, clients tell me that they did the Field Sobriety Tests and the PBT because they wanted to please the officer or make the officer happy and like them. They wanted to “cooperate” or to try to convince the officer that they are ‘okay’ to drive. 

The reality is, if the officer is asking for the Field Sobriety Tests and the PBT, they are already convinced that you have consumed too much alcohol to drive, and the officer has the intention to arrest you. You are not likely to convince the officer that they should not arrest you. Even if you blow zeros into the PBT, the officer might still arrest for suspicion of being under the influence of drugs, illegal or prescribed.  Therefore, submitting to Field Sobriety Tests or the PBT is only providing additional evidence of intoxication to the officer and adding in your conviction.

If you must say something to the police, then say, “I do not agree to any testing that is not required by the law.” That is it! Do not explain. Do not apologize. Speak simply and plainly. “I will not speak to you without a lawyer and I will not do any tests that are not required by the law.”

What is cooperating with the police during a police encounter?

When you follow lawful law enforcement commands, remain calm, and move in a predictable manner is cooperating with the police. Cooperation requires only that you do what the law requires and that you are not overtly rude or insulting to the officer. You do not have to waive your rights or incriminate yourself without legal counsel to be considered polite and cooperative.

Do not hesitate to contact our experienced criminal defense trial attorneys at Battlefield Law Group if you need to discuss a criminal case at 571-364-0500.