Let’s say the police knock on your door with a search warrant for your roommate. You grant them entry. They search the premises, and your roommate is nowhere to be found. The police also question you about the whereabouts of your roommate and you tell them you have no idea where he is, even though you know that he is hiding out at a friend’s place. The police leave. You, being a good friend, call your roommate and let him know what just happened.

In such a case, was covering for your friend a good idea? No, it was not. You see, by deliberately misleading the police, you have committed what is known as obstruction of justice. And if you are found to have lied to federal authorities, you could be charged with a felony and be sentenced to as much as five years in prison.

It is also a felony to knowingly destroy anything that could be used as evidence in a criminal case. This means if your friend asks you to get rid of something, like a weapon, that is connected to a crime and you toss it in a lake, you have again committed obstruction of justice. And for destroying evidence relevant to a federal investigation, you could be incarcerated for as long as 20 years.

So what should you do if the police ask you about a friend who is suspected of committing a crime? Well, you don’t have to tell them anything. When you are questioned by the police, you have the right to remain silent.

And if the police are persistent in their requests for information, you have the right to have an attorney act as your representative. So remember, if you don’t tell the police anything, you cannot later be accused of having lied to them and obstructing justice. And an experienced criminal defense attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected, and you are not coerced by the authorities into doing something you will later regret.