The U.S. Constitution affords some valuable rights to those who police officers believe may have committed a crime. Among others, these rights include your basic right not to incriminate yourself. This means you do not have to voluntarily give officers information that could lead to your arrest and prosecution.
If you are not familiar with your rights, officers should advise you of them. In fact, according to the U.S. Courts, Miranda v. Arizona requires officers to tell criminal suspects about their rights before performing custodial interrogations.
What is a custodial interrogation?
An interrogation is simply police questioning. For the interrogation to be custodial, though, you must not be free to leave. Consequently, to know whether you are in custody, you may want to consider whether it is possible to leave.
If you are in jail, in handcuffs or in a police car, leaving probably is not possible. The same is true if you are in a locked interrogation room. Still, the easiest way to know whether you can exit the interrogation is to ask officers.
Why does it matter?
Even though officers have a legal duty to inform you of your constitutional rights before questioning you when you are in custody, they can make mistakes. Luckily, if officers fail to advise you of your Miranda rights before interrogating you, a judge may prevent prosecutors from using your words against you.
You also may be able to exclude any evidence police obtained after violating your constitutional rights. Ultimately, though, to keep from needlessly complicating your situation, it is generally advisable to stay silent at least until you have met with an attorney.