We are all familiar, through television and movies, with our basic constitutional rights. You have the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney present during questioning, and, if you waive these rights, anything you say can and will be used against you. While everyone seems to know these basic rights, no one seems to exercise them!
All too often I am told by clients that they felt like they had to tell their side of the story, they didn’t want to lie, the officer didn’t read me my rights, or some other reason that they felt compelled to talk (and talk and talk) to the police. EXERCISE YOUR RIGHTS! There is no easier way to avoid lying than to say nothing. More than half of my clients who needed to “tell their side" provide the police with the proof necessary to arrest them. It is often a situation where they will be cited or arrested anyway and their statement is all that’s needed to convict them. Often, without the confession, the case would be more difficult to prove. Being courteous is far likely to “get you out of it" than a confession or being argumentative.
Remain calm and be courteous and follow the officer’s instructions. If you feel like the officer(s) are doing something wrong, make a mental note of it, and calmly and without argument, complain and/or protest what they are doing if necessary, but do as instructed. Your attorney can use this error to your advantage in defending you, but it will be of little use in a trial for resisting arrest or assaulting an officer. Being combative, belligerent, or argumentative will seldom help any situation involving the police. It’s simply a bad idea. Don’t physically struggle or try to run.
You can “cooperate" without providing a statement. If you must explain what happened, avoid admitting anything you said or did if possible. Your attorney can tell your story later.
If you are pulled over or approached by a police officer, you have a right to know why. Politely ask the officer why they wish to speak to you. If you are driving, produce your driver’s license, registration, and insurance information, if asked to do so. Provide your name if asked for it. For instance, “May I ask why you stopped me?" If the officer cannot or will not tell you why, that is a strong indicator that you should not say anything. You can reply, “Officer, I’m not comfortable answering any questions or speaking to you until I know what this is about and I may wish to have my attorney present" or “I don’t have anything to say about that." If you are approached by an officer and asked to speak for no apparent reason, you may refuse. If the officer asks you to stay, you may inquire as to whether or not they are arresting or detaining you and, if so, why. If their answer is “no", then you are free to continue on your way. If they detain you further, cooperate and follow their instructions, indicate clearly that you do not consent to being stopped or detained and that you are staying only because the officer is forcing you to. Let your attorney handle the situation and these circumstances.
What Do I Do If the Police Want to Search me, My Vehicle, or My Property?
First, ask the officer if they have a warrant for this search. If not, ask on what factual basis they believe that they have the right to search you, your vehicle, or your property. Generally, unless you are absolutely certain that there is nothing relevant to any crime (which may be something different than what they are searching for) you should refuse consent to any search. As a general rule, if an officer has to ask your permission to search, they don’t have any lawful basis for a warrantless search. Refuse politely. If there is something to be found, i.e. illegal drugs, consenting to the search is not likely to get you out of the situation. Requiring the police to bring in a K-9 unit, obtain a warrant, or to articulate a basis for a warrantless search is an exercise of your constitutional rights and, in the end, is unlikely to make your situation any worse than it is going to be anyway. Don’t consent.
Officers may search you without a warrant in the following circumstances:
· Searched incident to arrest. An officer may search your body and clothing for weapons and/or contraband when making a (valid) arrest. Don’t resist the officer’s efforts even if you believe that the arrest is unlawful.
· If you are arrested in a vehicle, the officer may search inside the vehicle, though probable cause is needed to search locked compartments.
· Exigent circumstances. Searches may be conducted in bona fide emergencies requiring immediate action.
· Plain view. An officer may seize evidence that is within their view and they have a right to be in the position allowing them to view it.
· Consent. Officers can search if you give them permission to do so.
If you have further questions regarding exercising your basic constitutional rights or interacting with police, please contact the firm to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation.