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Criminal Law Article




So the Police would like to Question you?


If a Police officer wants to question you about a crime, what should you do? Here are some tips.

Refusing to answer a police officer's questions is not a crime. Of course, people often voluntarily assist the police by supplying information that might help the police make an arrest. But the Bill of Rights under the 1987 Constitution guarantees the "right of the person to remain silent." A police officer generally cannot arrest a person simply for failure to respond to questions. This means that unless a police officer has "probable cause" to make an arrest or a "reasonable suspicion" to conduct a "stop and frisk," a person approached by the police officer has the legal right to walk away. But the fact that there may be a legal right to walk away doesn't mean this is a wise move. This is because there is no real way to tell what information the officer is using as a basis for his or her actions. In fact, the officer may have information that gives him or her a valid legal basis to make an arrest or to conduct a "stop and frisk," even if the individual is, in truth, innocent of any wrongdoing. If that is the case, an officer may forcibly detain an innocent individual who starts to leave the scene of an interview.


Common sense and self-protection suggest that people who intend to walk away from a police officer make sure that the officer does not intend to arrest or detain them. A good question might be, "Officer, I'm in a hurry, and I'd prefer not to talk to you right now. You won't try to stop me from leaving, right?" If the officer replies that the person is not free to leave, the person should remain at the scene and leave the question of whether the detention is correct to the courts at a later time.


Even though, as a general rule, a person doesn't have to respond to a police officer's questions, this may not hold true if the officer suspects the person of loitering or vagrancy. The revised Penal Code defines vagrancy as "wandering about from place to place without apparent business, such that the person poses a threat to public safety." Under this provision, if a police officer sees a person loitering, the officer can demand identification and an explanation of the person's activities. If the person fails to comply, the officer can arrest the person for loitering. Therefore, the refusal to answer questions is a problem only if the officer has also observed the person loitering.


Another situation where answers to police questions are usually required is when drivers are stopped for suspected traffic violations. Traffic offenses such as speeding and unsafe lane changes are generally classified as "infractions," for which drivers are given traffic tickets in lieu of arrest. However, an officer has the right to demand personal identification -- usually a driver's license and the vehicle registration. A driver's refusal to supply the information elevates the situation to a more serious offense, for which the driver usually can be arrested. The simple refusal to answer questions is not a crime, but the refusal to supply identification, combined with the suspected commission of a traffic offense, is.


Miranda Rights


People are often surprised to learn that if a person hasn't yet been arrested, the police may question the person and use the answers in court without first providing the familiar "Miranda warning" that advises people of their constitutional right to remain silent to have an attorney present if they do decide to talk to police officers. In fact, the Miranda warning is required only if the person being questioned is in custody or under custodial investigation.


Deciding Whether to Answer Pre-Arrest Questions


Whether or not to respond to police questioning generally depends on the person's possible relationship to criminal activity, the person's views of his or her civic responsibilities, and the person's past experiences with the police. If, however, the questioning involves events that may result in criminal charges against the person being questioned, the almost universal advice of criminal lawyers is to keep the old mouth tightly shut. Suspects all too frequently unwittingly reveal information that can later be used as evidence of their guilt. The right against self-incrimination or to not incriminate oneself guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution is especially powerful in this situation. A person who has reason to believe that he or she is a potential suspect should politely decline to answer questions, at least until after your has already arrived and ready to assist you. 


The Right of the Police to Conduct A Stop and Frisk


A police officer may stop a person in order to question them if the officer has a "reasonable suspicion" that the person is engaged in criminal activity. And for self-protection, the officer can at the same time carry out a limited pat-down search for weapons (a "frisk").


Recent cases decided by the Supreme Court interpreted the "stop and frisk" rule. In one case, the Court ruled that running away from the police is enough of a reason for the police to stop and frisk the accused. In another case decided by the Supreme Court, before the Police could stop and frisk, he or she must have reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested must execute an overt act indicating that he has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a crime in his or her presence (People vs. Binad Sy Chua, February 4, 2003 G.R. 136006-67).   


Also in recent American Jurisprudence, the US Supreme Court ruled that an anonymous tip that a suspect might be armed was insufficient justification for the police to conduct stop and frisk, absent other facts demonstrating the reliability of the tip. (Florida v. J.L, No. 98-1993 (March 28, 2000).)


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Mile Long Building 316

Legaspi Village

Amorsolo Street

Makati City

Telephone: 8941441

TeleFax: 8124296
















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