One of the most important questions that you can ask a police officer who has stopped you is whether or not you are free to go. Their answer helps dictate where the conversation is going to go, as well.
If the police are detaining you or arresting you, they have to tell you. If they have no legal grounds to do that, however, they also have to respect your right to simply leave the situation. The mere fact that a police officer is a police officer does not mean they can hold you and force you to talk to them for no reason.
For instance, if an officer walks up to you on the street and asks you where you’re going and what you’re doing, they may have no reason to talk to you at all. Maybe they’re just fishing for you to say something that’s self-incriminating. The simplest way to make sure that you don’t end up arrested may be to ask them if you can leave. If they have no reason to keep you there, they can’t hold you and keep asking questions, so you don’t run the risk of saying the wrong thing.
If they tell you that you’re not free to go, they need to have a reason. Maybe you match the description of a suspect involved in a crime. Maybe they thought they saw you commit a crime. There are many reasons the police can stop you, but they do have to have a reason. That’s a right that the Fourth Amendment gives you and all other Americans.
Asking the police if you are free to go is a way to determine if you should invoke your right to remain silent and contact an attorney. If you do wind up getting arrested, then you need to know about your legal options moving forward.