Your Rights when Interacting with Law Enforcement
Too many people do not know their constitutional protections when dealing with law enforcement. Unfortunately, failure to properly handle a situation with police can mean waiving some of your rights or not asserting them.
There are five critical constitutional rights to understand before interacting in any situation with law enforcement officers. You have the right:
- to be free from unreasonable searches.
- to be free from unreasonable seizures.
- to remain silent.
- to a fair trial.
- to be protected by a lawyer.
Below is a breakdown of these five rights, what they mean, and how to assert them properly.
1. You have the right to be free from unreasonable searches.
In other words, unless an exception applies, police are unable to search for evidence on your person or in your car without probable cause. They also cannot enter your house without a warrant under most circumstances. If an officer performs an unreasonable search, any evidence obtained through that search can’t be used to convict you.
To exercise this right, do not give consent to a search. It is important to never physically resist an officer, however.
At Home: Do not open the door and allow law enforcement inside your home without a warrant, regardless of any threats they may make. You waive many of your rights as soon as you let them inside or you step outside your front door. If you choose to speak with them, ask if they have a warrant without opening the door. If they have one, ask them to pass you a copy under the door.
On Your Person: You can say the following to an officer who wants to pat you down or search your pockets: “I do not consent to any searches, but I will not resist.” Although you are asserting your rights, you are at the same time informing the officer that there won’t be a physical altercation.
In Your Car: You can refuse to let an officer search your car, as they legally need “probable cause” to do so. If he or she asks to search your car or begins without asking, say that you do not consent.
2. You have the right to be free from unreasonable seizures.
Police must have a certain amount of proof of criminal activity, called “reasonable suspicion,” before pulling someone over or arresting them. Cops can pull a driver over for minor traffic violations like a broken tail light or failing to use a turn signal. They also often run license plate numbers in their database to check for valid reasons to stop a driver. Pulling a person over without reasonable suspicion means that any evidence obtained from the stop can’t be used to convict you in court.
Unlike pulling someone over, law enforcement needs probable cause to legally arrest someone. This higher level of necessary proof is used because courts hold cops accountable for attempting to deprive citizens of their liberties.
In Public: You are only required to tell the officer your name, date of birth, and address, and you should not provide any other information. You can then say you won’t answer any other questions without your lawyer present.
Pulling You Over: An officer that pulls you over can only keep you to check your information and resolve the reason for the stop. Keep your hands on the steering wheel. After you get your license back, ask if you are free to leave.
Illegal Arrests: The less you say, the better, even if an officer arrests you illegally. Remain calm, don’t fight or resist, and tell them, “I will not answer any questions without my lawyer.”
3. You have the right to remain silent.
Part of the Miranda Warning is as follows: “You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be held against you.”
Remaining silent is your legal right according to the Fifth Amendment – even if law enforcement doesn’t tell you. After you have identified yourself, your date of birth and your address, you don’t have to talk to police officers no matter what they say to you. After you’ve given them that information, immediately tell them you are exercising your right to remain silent. Interactions with police are typically recorded, so the questioning should stop as soon as you tell them you are asserting your Fifth Amendment right to silence.
4. You have the right to a fair trial.
According to the Fourteenth Amendment, that those accused of a crime have a right to a fair trial. It is therefore very important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible if you’ve been accused of a crime.
During trial, those charged have the right to legal representation, to call witnesses on their behalf, to confront government witnesses through cross-examination, and to testify if they wish to do so. If convicted, defendants cannot be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment. They also have the right to appeal the conviction. If a defendant is acquitted of the charges, he or she cannot be tried for the same crime again.
5. You have the right to be protected by a lawyer.
You have the right to legal representation by a lawyer if you have been accused of a crime – even if you can’t afford to hire one. In those situations, the court will appoint an attorney for you. Instead of answering police officer’s questions, ask for an attorney right away.
Contact The Law Office of Matthew C. Tyson
Our firm believes in educating our clients about their rights and the law so they can make informed decisions about their future. Our legal team finds the right approach for each client’s particular case, and we are committed to their best interests from the initial consultation through trial.
If you have been charged with a crime, contact The Law Office of Matthew C. Tyson to schedule your free initial consultation and to learn more about your rights and criminal defense.