You have never committed a criminal offense, so when the police ask you to come down to the station for questioning, it may not occur to you that doing so may cause problems. However, unbeknownst to you, the police may consider you a person of interest.
Is law enforcement’s interest in you a problem?
The term is not neutral
American Public Media explains that, as a person of interest, you are not technically a suspect; the police do not have enough evidence of that. However, they may believe that by interrogating you, they can come up with the necessary evidence. Meanwhile, they have not labeled you as a suspect, which may have the intended calming effect of keeping you compliant and preventing you from being guarded in what you say.
You may have heard the term, “good cop, bad cop,” but law enforcement really does have the latitude to employ tricks like this. Officers may also lie in an attempt to trick you into a confession or try to intimidate you.
Miranda rights apply to a person of interest
Because you are not under arrest, law enforcement officers do not have to inform you of your Miranda rights. However, even though no one tells you that a prosecutor may use anything you tell police against you in court, he or she can, in fact, use your words against you.
An officer’s authority has limits
Ultimately, you do not have to go down to the station and submit to questioning from law enforcement if you are not under arrest. You do have to provide identification if an officer asks, and if he or she pulls you over for a traffic violation, you have to provide other documentation, such as your license and registration. You may also have to submit to field sobriety tests – or face some consequences. However, you do not have to answer any questions without an attorney present, whether you are a witness, a person of interest or a suspect.