If you have not been placed under arrest should you answer questions from a police officer?
Generally speaking, a police officer may stop you on the street to ask you a question. For example, if the officer believes you were involved in a crime he may ask for your identification card, but only if he had "reasonable" suspicion.
If he asks to search you or property in your possession (e.g., purse or backpack) the police officer must first identify you as the possible perpetrator to a crime.
But generally speaking a person is not required to answer questions or allow the officer to search you or your property without "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause" that you were involved in a crime.
The officer may not suggest that you are legally compelled to agree to speak with him or let him conduct a search of you or your personal property (U.S. v. Dayton, U.S. Sup. Ct. 2002). Keep in mind that these rules change if the officer witnessed you breaking the law (e.g., shoplifting, speeding, etc).
Your words may be held against you so be careful. When you speak to a police officer your words may be recounted by a police officer in a manner that is a bit different than what you intended. If you have even a remote suspicion that you may facing charges or be accused of a crime make sure you talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney before you say anything to police officers.
***The information in this blog entry does not constitute legal advice.