"You have the right to remain silent"
“You have the right to remain silent” is a phrase synonymous with any show involving law enforcement. It’s been said on Law and Order and other police shows for years and most of us think it means what a normal person thinks it means: a person does not have to say anything to the police. As some people find out the hard way, this is only partly true.
The right to remain silent when a police officer is asking you questions, like any other right, is not absolute. The right to free speech does not include threats, yelling fire in a movie theater, or giving false information to law enforcement. In Ohio, the right to remain silent is not an absolute right. When a person who is suspected of illegal activity is approached by the police, they have one obligation: the person must give their identifying information if the police have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Can a person go to jail for not giving their information?
Individuals in the State of Ohio have been charged with crimes and faced the possibility of jail time for not giving the police their name or identification. In many instances people believed they were permitted to remain silent, after all it has been repeated over and over on TV and movies so it must be true. Like most things on television or the internet, the portrayal of real life can be misleading.
Why are police allowed to do this?
The reason for requiring a person to identify themselves makes sense: the police need to know who they are talking to when they are conducting a criminal investigation. If the person that the police are talking to has a warrant for their arrest, then the officer needs to know that. It also gives the officer an idea of the background of the person they are talking to. During a traffic stop for instance, police need to know who they are talking to before continuing with their investigation.
What obligation does a person have after giving their identifiers?
Once the police know who they are talking to, that person does not have any further legal obligation to talk to the police. An officer may not like this. Someone who is not cooperative makes their job harder. But a person who is suspected of criminal activity has no obligation to talk to the police beyond giving personal information. Obviously that person is free to talk to the police, but this can be an unwise idea if the person does not know the goal or scope of the investigation.
Depending on the situation, it may make sense to talk to the police. Often this is a bad idea. Once identification of a person has been made, that person has no further obligation to talk to the police if they are being accused of a crime.
Disclaimer: This is legal information and not legal advice. Every case is different. This is not intended to be legal advice on how to handle your case. Please call for a free consultation at 419-242-8214 to speak to an attorney about your case.