Question: Is it better to politely answer all of a police officer’s questions or invoke my right to silence if I am pulled over in Michigan?
Answer: Well, again, as you’re sort of implying by your question, there is really no absolute answer to this question. Because any decision that you make has certain ramifications, and many times those ramifications can be negative. Let me explain to you what I mean. But first, I will say that as a general rule, it’s best to say as little as possible when you’re speaking with police. There’s an old Korean saying that I love that applies in this context, and that saying is, “If you keep your mouth closed, you can’t bite yourself.”
The problem, though, is that you do have an obligation to identify yourself and to provide drivers license, registration and proof of insurance. When the officer starts asking specific questions, then you may decide to become very narrow in how you answer them or not answer them at all. So for example, if the police officer asks you things like where you’re coming from or where you’re going, you may feel free to answer those questions, but just remember that the police officer is at that point starting to investigate potentially a crime, and that everything you say could become part of the evidence against you. Also, your failure to answer anything that the police officer asks you will then be reported by the police officer in his or her narrative report, and if the case ever goes to a jury, the jury will know that you refused to answer those questions, whether you were polite or not. And the jury may draw from your failure to cooperate an inference of guilt. So it’s the classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Also, a prosecutor may be less willing to give you a break, say a reduced plea bargain, if you’re not cooperative, and certainly the judge might take that into consideration in determining what the appropriate sentence would be. So even though the answer is yes, you should say as little as possible, just recognize that depending on how that is reported by the police officer, it could actually have some pretty serious negative consequences for you.