Any interaction with a law enforcement officer can be an intimidating experience, but there are legal limits in place to protect citizens from the authorities who abuse their power. The problem is, police officers are trained to not let you know what those limitations are. So it’s very important that you, as a law-abiding citizen, know and understand your legal rights when it comes to any interaction with the police. Those rights include:
- The right to remain silent
- The right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car or your home
- If you are not under arrest, you have the right to leave
- If you are arrested, you have the right to a lawyer
Also important to know is that regardless of your citizenship or immigration status, you are protected by constitutional rights.
Right to Remain Silent
The Fifth Amendment grants you the right to remain silent. If you are stopped by the police while driving, you must present your license, registration, and proof of insurance. Carrying an ID is required if you are driving a vehicle. However, you have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions. A police officer may try to trick you into incriminating yourself by asking questions like, “Do you know how fast you were going?” or, “Did you see that stop sign back there?” Believe it or not, you can simply answer, “I would like to assert my Fifth Amenment right to remain silent, officer” or, if you want to be a little more polite, “I’m sorry. I don’t know, officer.” You may also verbally express your wish to exercise your right to remain silent, which will help you if things escalate and you are arrested.
Also remember it is perfectly legal and acceptable to ask the officer if you are under arrest, and inquire if you are free to leave in the event you are not.
Right to Refuse to Consent to a Search
The police do not have the right to search your home, car, electronic devices or person without either a warrant, your explicit consent, or legal exception to the warrant requirement. That may sound simple, but the point needs reiterating.
A law enforcement officer may ask you if they can search your home, car or person, but you are not obligated to consent to a search. And refusing to consent to a search is not, under law, an admission of guilt. The Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from executing a search without a warrant or a legal exception to the warrant requirement.
When a Warrant Is in Play
If police do have a warrant, it’s important to review it carefully to make sure that it gives them the right to search.
You are not obligated to help them, though. The Fifth Amendment has been interpreted to protect computer passwords and locks on your phone. The police have a right to take such items to another location to better search them, but you are not required to hand over access to anything.
Rights Once in Custody
If the police persist, or if you are arrested and held for questioning, you still have the right to remain silent – and you absolutely should. You should also request a lawyer for all interviews you have with the police, which is your right. An attorney knows better than you what protections against self-incrimination you have in police questioning, and will provide guidance in regards to your well-being outside of police intentions. If you can’t afford a lawyer, then one must be provided for you. Do not sign anything or answer questions without an attorney.
Help After Getting Pulled Over by Police
An officer overstepping his or her bounds is best confronted with a professional lawyer. Contact Thiessen Law Firm today and see what our nationally-recognized services can provide for you.