You do have some legal obligations when the police approach you. For instance, you may have to identify yourself. You may have to tell them what you’re doing. However, once you have fulfilled your obligations, should you say anything else?
One law professor says that you never should. He says that you don’t need to tell them that you plead the fifth, you don’t need to answer their questions and you don’t need to offer any information. Instead, all you need to say is that you want your lawyer.
That’s it. This is true if you already committed a crime. It’s true if you have done nothing wrong. It’s even true if you don’t know what you did or if you committed a crime or not. It’s true when talking to the police at the station, on the side of the road or in your own front yard. He says you should never do more than tell them that you want a lawyer.
This may seem excessive, especially to those who think they have not done anything wrong. His reasoning, though, is fairly simple. You can accidentally say something that makes you appear guilty or that comes back to haunt you later. You don’t want to misspeak at such a crucial moment. You don’t want to make an error that then defines your life. This is a high-stress encounter with a lot on the line, so you never want to say more than you’re legally obligated to say.
That could still lead to an arrest, of course, and then you need to know what legal steps to take.