The first thing people need to understand is that you are not legally obligated to do a whole lot at a traffic stop. You should be cordial and respectful with the officer and you want to comply with their commands. If they ask you to turn the car off or get out of the vehicle then comply and do that. However, your only legal duty in the state of Pennsylvania is to provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance. You do not have to say or provide anything else. If the police are asking you “Why did I pull you over,” you do not have to answer that. You don’t have to speculate on what you may or may not have been doing that was illegal. This also goes to the Field Sobriety Tests that offiers may ask you to perform. You can choose to decline these tests. There are a various numbers of reasons why you might decline to do those tests. However, if the officer asks you to give a breath or blood test, there are ramifications for declining or refusing to take those tests.
There are three different levels of custody. Each level bring new rights and protections for you. Just because you were pulled over and the officer is asking you questions does not mean you have to be “Mirandized” or “read your rights”.
The lowest level is a “Mere Encounter” is where you happen to come into contact with a police officer on the street or driving down the road. This is simply a mere encounter with the officer; the officer was not looking for you, you both just happened to be there at the same time. Basically, your only obligation here to the officer is if they ask for identification, you must provide it. Other than that, you do not have to do anything else for the officer or answer any of their questions.
The next level is an “Investigatory Detention”. This is your typical traffic stop where you are pulled over. The officer has some reasonable belief that you may have committed some type of offense. They can legally briefly detain you to investigate that offense. This gives them a little bit broader powers to detain you for a period of time to determine whether or not a law has been violated. They are allowed to investigate what law they believe you broke until they determine whether they have enough evidence to determine whether a crime has been committed. At that point, you are detained, but your rights have not fully kicked in at this point. Many individuals get “investigative detention” confused with the next level, which is called “custodial detention.” While it is true that you are being detained with “investigative detention,” it’s only for investigative purposes. At this level the officer does not have to “mirandize” or “read you your rights” and you do not have to answer any questions.
The highest level is “Custodial Detention.” This is the equivalent of a full blown arrest. You are not free to leave and the officers at this level must read you your rights before they start to question you. In other wards now you need to be “Mirandized”. What this means is that you can be in custodial detention and not receive you Miranda Rights as long as the police are not asking you questions about the case. Once the officers start interrogating you, then your rights apply and they must notify you that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. In addition at this level you are not required to answer any of their questions.
Regardless of whether or not you were “Mirandized” or “read your rights” you always have the option and right to remain silent and not answer any questions asked by the police.