What If Law Enforcement Questions You without Identifying Themselves?

Posted on by Floyd

shouting at policeKnowing how to handle yourself when being questioned by an individual you suspect to be law enforcement is critical – especially if they have not identified themselves.

Most people do not know how to handle themselves in a law enforcement encounter. While they are aware they have constitutional rights, they do not know how those apply. More so, when being questioned by someone who has not identified themselves as law enforcement, it becomes confusing. And there is no clear line drawn as to which rights kick in and where they begin.

Can Law Enforcement Question You without Presenting a Badge or Identifying Themselves in Albuquerque?

The answer depends on the situation, and in some cases, an officer can question you, obtain evidence, and never tell you who they are.

When an Officer Is in Uniform

Yes, when an officer is in uniform or a patrol car, you will know that they are law enforcement and you can request their identification as well. When requested and while in uniform, the officer must show their identification to a person that they are questioning or approaching.

Some individuals pretend to be police officers. Therefore, if you are suspicious, you can call your local precinct or, if you feel your life is threatened, call 911 immediately and report the impersonation. Law enforcement knows that there are individuals who pretend to be law enforcement to gain entry into someone’s home or car. This is why they will ensure that an officer approaching you is, in fact, a genuine member of law enforcement.

When an Officer Is a Detective

A detective does not drive a marked police car nor do they wear a uniform. But if they are approaching you, should they identify themselves? Yes, they should. However, there is no law requiring a detective or even uniformed officer to identify themselves, but it is good practice to do so.

Most detectives, to build trust, would approach and identify themselves when questioning someone – but they are not required to do so legally. In this situation, you may have a plainclothes officer in front of you, asking questions, possibly even interrogating you, without you knowing it.

When an Officer Is Undercover

Likewise, when an officer is undercover, they are not required to identify themselves. They can gather evidence, ask you questions, and anything you say to that undercover officer would be used against you just as if you confessed in the precinct.

When an officer is undercover or unmarked, they are protecting their identity and they are instructed to protect their identity while undercover. Therefore, there is no law requiring them to identify themselves at the time when they are questioning you.

What If an Officer Is Arresting Me?

If law enforcement wants to arrest you, they must identify themselves as law enforcement – but that does not mean they need to show you their credentials immediately. For example, you are running from a plainclothes officer, and he shouts “police, stop” to you.

Announcing their position is considered identifying themselves, so you could not use the argument that the officer did not identify themselves and you ran to protect yourself from potential harm.

If you were not running from the police and an officer came to your home stating that you were under arrest, you can ask to see identification and also the arrest warrant. In most instances, if police seek you out directly, they have already obtained an official warrant to do so. After arresting you, they may search your home and seize property. If they do not have warrants for this, anything they obtain after the fact would be unusable in court.

Answering Questions Can Give Police Probable Cause

Realize that police encounters are limited, and what an officer can do with the information you give them is equally limited. To arrest you, an officer needs reasonable suspicion or probable cause, meaning there is enough evidence that you were involved in that activity to arrest you without obtaining a warrant first.

Some states do require that police inform you of their intent to arrest you and the cause for that arrest, but other states do not require this first. After you are arrested, the officer can search and seize evidence. In cases where they did not come to your home to arrest you directly (such as a traffic stop), they would not need a search warrant to take evidence from your or your vehicle. Instead, they have enough suspicion to arrest reasonably and seize.

You Might Be Required to Show Identification

Unfortunately, it is not an even trade between citizen and law enforcement. While an officer does not always have to identify themselves first, you do. Most states have laws that require you to identify yourself, including New Mexico. Therefore, if an officer demands to see your driver’s license or other form of identification, you must present it.

Identifying information usually includes giving your name, address, and what you are doing. However, you may have to also share your destination, date of birth, and in some states, your “true” full name (Nevada, for example).

Four states call it grounds to arrest for not identifying yourself; luckily, New Mexico is not one of them.

Realize It Is All Interpreted by the Court

Unfortunately, areas such as this are highly complex, because the court interprets all laws and past rulings often dictate how the judge determines whether you were coerced or entrapped illegally into testifying to an officer. Therefore, assuming you can defend yourself for what you said to an undercover officer (or someone who questioned you without identifying themselves) is dangerous if you do not know case law.

Hire a Defense Attorney Immediately

If you were arrested or you were questioned by someone who did not identify themselves as an officer but arrested you later, you need an attorney. The laws in this area are very gray, and not having someone to clarify the issue and defend your rights could result in a guilty conviction.

Speak with an attorney, now, from New Mexico Criminal Law Offices by calling us or requesting more information online.