Getting stopped by a police officer in Pennsylvania can be intimidating, particularly if the officer proceeds to question you regarding your alleged involvement in a crime. If you are stopped and questioned by a police officer, it is important that you know your rights. A criminal defense attorney can evaluate your case and determine whether the questioning you endured was lawful.
Legally, a police officer is allowed to stop you and ask you questions if they have legitimate reason to believe you committed or helped commit a crime. However, under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you are protected against self-incrimination. This means that you do not need to answer any questions that could expose you to criminal charges. The only information you are required to provide when asked is your name.
If the officer has probable cause or a reasonable belief that you are involved in criminal activity, they may arrest you, even if they don't have a warrant. You may have seen on TV that arresting officers often read the alleged perpetrator their "Miranda rights" as they make the arrest, such as the right to remain silent. While officers do not need to give Miranda warnings before making an arrest, they must do so before interrogating the person. Miranda warnings allow you to stop answering questions during an interrogation, even if you initially agreed to waive your right to remain silent. If you request to remain silent or request to speak with an attorney, the officers must cease questioning.
If you are in police custody and an officer fails to read you your full Miranda rights before questioning you, anything you say during the interrogation might be suppressed in court. Any evidence the officer uncovers as a result of this unlawful interrogation also might be suppressed. However, do not assume that your charges will be dropped if an officer did not give Miranda warnings before questioning you. The prosecutor may be able to convict you based on evidence unrelated to the interrogation.