Scales of Justice and Inside a Courthouse


Justin M. Crozier Feb. 7, 2017

On a fairly regular basis I get questions from people about questions they have to answer, on when they have to give their name, and on what their basic rights are when it comes to dealing with the police.

Well, it’s a more complex question than what you might think.  The answer (classic lawyer answer right here) is…. It depends.  Not very useful, I suppose.  So, let me explain why it depends and what it depends on.  I’m about to discuss some history here, if you don’t care and just want the advice… well you can skip four paragraphs down and you can just read my advice.

In short it depends on what the officer thinks is going on, and is what he believes reasonable.  If the officer thinks you are breaking the law he can stop you and he can ask you some questions, including requesting your ID.  The standard for whether he thinks you are breaking a law is called “probable cause.”  I put that in quotes because there have been so many cases that discuss probable cause that it barely means what it sounds like.

The term probable cause started back with the constitution, the 4th amendment prevents the government from screwing with you, your stuff, your house, and yourself unless they have probable cause.  As time went by the Courts had to decide what probable cause means.  And of course, its pretty complicated.  I’m not here to get incredibly in depth on legal issues, but I do want to make sure you have an idea of what the context is for these issues.

Now, probable cause is not the ONLY standard that the police have when stopping someone to ask some questions.  They need probable cause for a warrant and to arrest you, but to stop you they need “reasonable suspicion.”  Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause.  All reasonable suspicion really means is, does the cop think you are doing something wrong AND is that something a reasonable cop would think?

Lets take an example; you are sitting on a chair in a field and you are staring blankly at the ground.  You are unarmed and are doing nothing.  It would be pretty tough for a cop to reasonable believe that you are doing something wrong there.  They might think you are doing something wrong, but it’s not reasonable.  Okay, so what if you are standing in an alley over a guy who is laid out on the ground and you have a wallet in your hands.  Now a reasonable cop might very well think you are doing something wrong.  Maybe you aren’t, but it wouldn’t be crazy for a cop to think you are.

So, here in Missouri, you can be ordered to provide your ID.  But, it is not an unlimited right.  They have to have reasonable suspicion that you’re doing something wrong.  So, if you are speeding… they get your ID.  If you are taking a rip off your trusty old bong and they see it… they get your ID.  You’re chasing a homeless man down an alley with a chainsaw… they get your ID. 

Now that they have your ID, what else can they do?  Well, they can probably pat you down to make sure you don’t have a weapon on you too.  Of course, if they “happen” to find that little baggy of weed in your back pocket they CAN charge you with possession.  They can get away with a lot.

Now, if you have been stopped for a speeding ticket and they ask to look in your car… hell no.  You say no, 100% of the time.  You don’t ever let them look in your car.  If they want to look in there so bad, then they need to get a warrant.  You will never ever help yourself by letting them look in the car.

Okay, so what other questions do you have to answer?  Well, in Missouri you do have to answer where you are going.  That is actually a law here.  You have to tell them where you are going  and what your “business” is about.  Not your manner of earning income, but just what it is that you are doing at the moment.  And that is it.

Otherwise, DO NOT ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS.  For the love of God.  Please do not answer any questions.  I wish I could grab you by the shoulders, look you in the eyes, and plead with you to not answer any other questions.  They can’t make you.  It will literally never ever help you.  Yeah, they will SAY that it will help you, but it won’t.  All the time I see videos of clients telling the cops things that I am losing my mind about.  Just don’t do it, if not for yourself then do it for me and my own sanity.

Thanks for stopping by to read!

Good Luck out there.