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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWUx3-b0F_Y

Can you get into trouble for not answering questions when talking to the police? Or is this a legit "cheat code" that can get you out of trouble? Which one is it?

More specifically, will responding to any and every inquiry from a police office in the US with "I don't answer questions" and nothing more cause legal trouble for the person responding in this way? Will limiting oneself to such response avoid potential legal trouble? What are the legal consequences of acting in this way?

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    Is what a legit cheat code? The fifth amendment? Have you done any research? What did you find? Why didn't it answer your question?
    – phoog
    Mar 24, 2021 at 2:55
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    The video appears to take place in Louisiana, for anyone who doesn't feel like clicking the link.
    – Ryan M
    Mar 24, 2021 at 3:45
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    Could you also please describe what happens in the linked video? Not all of us are writing from a place where we can watch/listen to youtube.
    – hszmv
    Mar 24, 2021 at 11:22
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    Both questions and answers on Stack Exchange must stand on their own, and not rely on any off-site resources. URIs change, links rot, content gets moved, deleted, or changed, and the question should still make sense to a future reader even if that video gets deleted or YouTube goes out of business. (If you think that is unlikely, consider that YouTube is Google's second video service, and any content that relies on links to Google Video will now be unintelligible. And I should know because I have some essays that depend on links to Google Video that now no longer make sense.) Mar 27, 2021 at 10:42

5 Answers 5

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There are certain situations where the law may require you to provide some information -- particularly when you've been pulled over for a traffic violation -- but it is typically limited to basic identifying information.

Beyond that, it is legally advantageous to refuse to answer questions. If you are doing so, though, you should explicitly invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and your Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Invoking the Fifth prevents the police from using your refusal to answer as evidence, and invoking the Sixth requires the police to stop asking you questions.

It may, however, be practically disadvantageous to refuse to answer questions, as there are cops who are just looking for a reason to act like a psychopath.

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  • That's why you get yourself a lawyer. They know better which questions to answer and which to shut the hell up on. You do want to tell your lawyer everything (If you did what the cops are accusing you of, tell your lawyer. They have a moral duty to not discuss what you say with anyone (unless you're planning more crimes) and can lose their law license if they are disbarred.
    – hszmv
    Mar 24, 2021 at 11:21
  • @hszmv You aren't going to have a lawyer available if a cop just comes up to you on the street.
    – Tiger Guy
    Mar 28, 2021 at 5:48
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    @TigerGuy In which case you walk away. Mar 30, 2021 at 21:35
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    @feetwet Right. The only thing you should say to a cop is "Am I free to go?" if the cop hasn't said one way or another if you're under arrest. You could be "Detained" which means that you aren't under arrest, but you are part of an investigation into a possible crime and are in some jurisdictions required to provide ID on request, but nothing else. Cops may ask question you but you do not need to answer.
    – hszmv
    Sep 23, 2022 at 14:20
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    @feetwet In what country? Of course they do.
    – bdb484
    Sep 23, 2022 at 21:53
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Can you get into trouble for not answering questions when talking to the police?

NO, Maybe, Yes

It depends on what, if any, legislation causes the questions to be asked whether failure to answer can get someone in to trouble.

Apart from general day-to-day conversations, there are three instances when an officer may ask someone questions:

Stop and Account.  This interaction is totally voluntary and failure to answer is not, in itself, cause for reasonable suspicion of any offence, so one cannot "get in to trouble" by staying silent.

The terminology varies from Force to Force, but can be summarised as:

  • What are you doing?

  • Why are you in the area?

  • Where are you going?

  • What are you carrying?

There is no legal requirement or obligation to answer any of these questions, and the police cannot lawfully detain anyone to ask them.

Under Caution. To add to the answer given by user28517 (a deleted account, formerly @moo), above, the caution is given before questioning a person concerning their suspected involvement in a suspected offence.  They do not have to be under arrest as England and Wales allows for voluntarily attended interviews under caution.  One may "get in to trouble" by not answering if the trial judge directs the jury to consider the Adverse Inferences which, to use moo's words, means "not mentioning something might harm your position".

Compulsion. There are a few occasions when a person may "get in to trouble" and commit an offence by not answering a question. For example, a Disclosure Notice under s.62(3) of the Serious Organised Crime Act 2005 may require (ie compel) someone to given an answer - the offence of not doing so is at s.67.  As this piece of legislation is designed, in part, to elicit information from a bit-player on the fringes of criminality in order to build a case against a "bigger fish", s.65(1) provides a statutory immunity from self-incrimination relating to the answer unless they have lied or failed to properly answer.

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  • Amazing! But what is the reason for the procedure of stop-and-account to be defined and named if it does not carry any powers to compela subject to comply with it? Sep 22, 2022 at 21:17
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    @JosephP. That's a question worthy of its own post, not buried in comments. If you ask it, I shall endeavour to answer.
    – user35069
    Sep 24, 2022 at 8:45
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Unlike the situation in the UK, you have no obligation to answer questions posed by police, apart from some state requirements to identify during a traffic stop (which can be complied with by providing your license, as in the video), or in some states in general you may be required to provide your name. A judge may order you to answer questions, the police cannot. This is basically what it means to "take the fifth" – given the risk of self-incrimination involved in answering questions posed by the police, refusing to answer questions is a fundamental constitutional right in the US. It is not legal for the prosecution to introduce your refusal to answer questions at a trial, nor it it a legal basis for an arrest (does not constitute probable cause).

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    There is no obligation in the UK, but they are upfront about how you holding back material information might not be in your best interest...
    – user28517
    Mar 24, 2021 at 5:47
  • In the UK the police use this by asking questions (in a recorded formal interview) like "Did anyone make you do it?". So if you reply "No comment" the prosecution can point up the discrepancy if you later say in court "Actually Mr Big threatened to break my legs if I didn't". Mar 26, 2021 at 15:33
  • For "UK" in the above, read "England and Wales". The clause in the Criminal Justice Act 1994 allowing an inference of guilt to be drawn from a suspect's silence does not apply in Scotland. Sep 23, 2022 at 16:42
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Get into trouble? Sure!
Get out of trouble? Maybe ...

Various jurisdictions have different implementations of the protection against self-incrimination. This may allow a suspect not to answer anything, or just not to make any statement to the facts. So if a truthful statement could incriminate the speaker, it might be wise not to say anything beyond "I want to talk to my lawyer."

Then there are situations where the police stops a motorist (or pedestrian) and all they want to do is to give a verbal caution or admonishment. Or where the police see someone who might match the description of a suspect. A polite and coherent answer might resolve the situation without further hassle. "I don't answer questions" could either make the police give up and bother someone else, or it might make them write the ticket, or even worse. The outcome depends on police-community relations and (unfortunately) the skin color of the persons involved.

So saying nothing isn't a "legit cheat code" to get out of trouble. It is raising the stakes and bluffing, in the hope that the cop will fold. Where I live, and for someone who looks like me, being polite and reasonably cooperative is the best strategy for minor traffic stops. That won't prevent a ticket if a ticket is clearly justified, but it makes the experience less bothersome for all sides and it could perhaps make the difference between a ticket and a warning.

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The standard caution given by British police upon arrest or questioning of a subject is:

“You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

The linked government page explicitly says (emphasis mine):

The police may question you about the crime you’re suspected of - this will be recorded. You don’t have to answer the questions but there could be consequences if you don’t.

They actively say that not mentioning something might harm your position.

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    That's not the "British" caution but just the one for E,W & NI - it's different in Scotland
    – user35069
    Mar 24, 2021 at 9:11

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