When you are pulled over on the highway or receive a visit from the police at your home, it can sometimes be tricky to know what to say. You want to make sure you don’t say the wrong thing and end up facing criminal charges. You can, of course, always opt to remain silent. Before you do so, however, you may wish to ask the police a few of the following questions:

“Am I Being Detained?”

If the officer insists that you go to the station or sit in the back of their car, you should immediately ask them if you are being detained.

What Does Being Detained Mean?

Being detained means that you are not free to leave. If the officer confirms that you are being detained, you will most likely be held in a specific location while the police carry out a brief investigation. If their investigation does not turn up anything noteworthy, you will be released from detention immediately afterward.

“How Long Will I Be Detained For?”

If you are detained by the police, you should refrain from answering any of their questions. However, you should ask them how long you will be held in detention. Though there are no hard and fast limits to how long they may detain you for, they must not do so for an unreasonable length of time.

“Am I Being Arrested?”

Once you have confirmed that you are not being detained, you should then ask if you are being arrested. Though these two terms are quite similar, there are some important differences between them that you should be aware of:

Detained vs. Arrested

To legally detain you, the police must have reasonable suspicion that you were involved in a crime. Your detention can be used to investigate you but it must be conducted in the least restrictive manner possible. You will almost certainly be released from your detention as soon as the officers have completed their brief investigation.

Being placed under arrest is more serious than being detained. To arrest you, the police must have probable cause that you committed a crime or be in possession of a warrant signed by a judge. Being arrested usually means being brought to jail, where you will remain until you can post bail.

“Why Am I Being Detained/Arrested?”

The police cannot arrest or detain you for no reason. As such, if they confirm that you are being detained/arrested, you should ask them why. Understanding the reasons for the situation that you find yourself can be a huge help in determining what your next steps should be.

“Am I Free to Go?”

If the officer that you are speaking with lets you know that you are not being detained or arrested, you should follow up by asking if you are free to go. The answer will almost certainly be yes.

If you would like to minimize the amount of time that you spend talking to the police, you can combine two questions into one by asking, “Am I being detained or am I free to go?”

Once the police confirm that you are indeed free to leave, you may walk away, shut your front door, or put your keys in the ignition and hit the road.

“Do You Have a Warrant?”

Should the police ask to search your car, home, or personal belongings, you would be well-advised to ask them if they have a warrant. If they do not, you are free to refuse the search.

You may also ask this question if the officers tell you that they have come to place you under arrest. They may only do this if they have a valid arrest warrant.

“May I Speak to an Attorney?”

If asking the police, “Am I free to go or am I being detained?” results in any answer other than, “You are free to leave at any time” you should ask to speak to a lawyer immediately. Your attorney will make sure that the officers follow the law and do not infringe upon your constitutional rights as they conduct their investigation.

“Could You Please Refrain From Questioning Me Until My Attorney Arrives?”

Once you have requested an attorney, the police should immediately stop asking you questions. If they do not, you may need to stand up for yourself and ask them to stop speaking to you until your lawyer arrives on the scene. When you have asked your question, you can then remain completely silent until your attorney shows up – even if the officers continue to badger you.