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Do I have to talk to the police?

Question: My son has a history with the cops—nothing serious, but when something happens, they generally come looking into where he is and what he’s been up to lately.

I try to be polite and answer their questions, but sometimes they just keep, badgering me. Do I have to talk to a cop when he comes to my door or stops me on the street?

Answer: Lots of parents have kids who run afoul of the law—whether it is breaking curfew, drinking, or much more serious charges, we want to protect our children and we want to protect their rights. After all, just because they have been accused of a crime does not mean they are guilty. The U.S. Constitution ensures that anyone charged with a crime has the right to a jury trial to determine whether they are guilty. Your son, of course, has those rights.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically addresses someone’s right not to incriminate themselves. In plain English, this means that you cannot be forced to talk about your activities or whereabouts as part of a police investigation. If your son is stopped by police, he should invoke that right by saying, “My attorney told me not to talk to you.”

You might be thinking, "That’s fine for my son. But, what about me? I’m not the suspect.”

The bottom line, however, is that whenever you speak with a police officer you run the risk of saying something that might not only implicate your son in a crime, it might implicate you. All too often, a parent might know something about their child’s activities that the courts could charge as a crime. Charges for aiding and abetting, accessory and conspiracy to commit crimes can, and have been, charged against parents who didn’t report their children’s criminal activities.

Therefore, in speaking with law enforcement, you not only open up your son to possible prosecution, you could also open yourself up as well. The answer to your question about whether you have to speak with an officer is a simple and resounding no. Your best reply is the same as your son’s “My attorney has told me not to talk to you.”

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