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Answering police questions of course leads to more questions

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On the way to last week’s spectacular Neil Young concert, a police officer stopped my car soon after I cleared the Baltimore harbor tunnel. The officer was polite and efficient with his time from the moment of the stop until around five minutes later when he handed and explained my ticket for allegedly changing lanes inside the tunnel.

I do not frequently get stopped by police, and I feel it important for me to follow my own advice to suspects, which is not to answer police questions when a possible or actual suspect, and to refuse searches. However, in my euphoria about this concert date and seeing the cop in part as just a fellow human (when I freely speak with them about my clients’ cases), I violated my own advice, when I answered where I was heading (New Jersey). I caught my senses when he then asked where in New Jersey I was going. I replied: “I am not answering any questions.” Of course, by writing this blog entry before I go to trial on this ticket — if it were a criminal charge versus the traffic infraction that it is — I would also be violating my advice not to discuss one’s pending criminal charge with anyone but his or her lawyer.

Just like with my last police stop around two years ago, the officer was polite and professional in accepting my refusal to answer questions. He acknowledged that I did not need to answer any questions, told me he would be back shortly, processes his review of my criminal record/open warrant status, printed my ticket, explained the process for paying or demanding a hearing, and let me on my way to arrive timely at the concert.

My passenger friend asked me about my decision not to answer the officer’s questions. I said that not only is it important for me to show my clients that I walk the walk that I advise them not to speak with police when a potential or actual suspect, but also that one police question leads to another, just like few people can resist eating a next potato chip after the first one. Had I here said I was attending the Neil Young concert, the next questions might have been about whether my passenger or I were carrying marijuana or planning to smoke it at the concert. Of course marijuana was smoked near us at the concert, and if the marijuana stink had stuck strongly enough to the hair and clothes of me or my passenger, a traffic stop on our return home may have led to my car being fruitlessly torn apart under the pretext of a probable cause search.

Silence is golden with the cops.