UNDERSTANDING YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS
What Should I do if I am Stopped for Questioning by the Police?
- Stay calm. Don't run. Don't argue, resist or obstruct the police, even if you are innocent or police are violating your rights.
- Keep your hands where police can see them.
- Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly and silently walk away. If you are under arrest, you have a right to know why.
- You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions. If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer out loud. You are under no legal obligation to talk to police or investigators. Though in some states you must give your name if asked to identify yourself.
- You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may "pat down" your clothing if they suspect a weapon. You should not physically resist, but you have the right to refuse consent for any further search. If you do consent, it can affect you later in court.
- Ask to speak with your lawyer if the police or investigators continue to badger you with questions.
Can the Police Search My Car?
If a motorist violates a traffic law, is driving erratically, or acts suspiciously, the police have the right to pull them over. Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window part way and place your hands on the wheel. Upon request, show police your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance.
If an officer smells marijuana, alcohol, or suspects you of drunk driving, they may be able to take certain police action. Even if you haven't been drinking or using drugs, if an officer sees a bong on your car seat, he may believe he has probable cause to search your vehicle. We routinely and most often successfully challenge these "plain view" searches.
If you are pulled over for a broken tail light, speeding, or other traffic violation, the police cannot search your car without probable cause. If there is nothing in plain view to give rise to suspicion that you have committed a crime, the police don't have a reason to search your car. If asked by the police for permission to search your car, you can refuse. However, the police may impound your car in order to secure a search warrant to search its contents later.
Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent.
Can The Police Search My Entire House?
A search warrant should indicate the areas to be searched and what is being searched for. If a warrant gives the police the right to search your entire house, they have the right to search the whole house. However, they can only look in areas where what is being searched for might reasonably be found. If they are looking for stolen grandfather clocks, they should not be going through your medicine cabinet opening up band aid boxes or looking in your microwave. Do not, under any circumstances, interfere with the police executing the warrant – even if they violate its terms. The remedy we seek is to suppress any evidence so that they may not use it in the case against you because the search has violated your constitutional rights.
When Should My Rights Be Read?
The Miranda case and its progeny indicate that the warnings be given when there is "custodial interrogation". Many times there are no Miranda warnings given by the police because there is no statement taken from the defendant. Good legal advice is to never say anything to the police without first talking to a good criminal lawyer. Otherwise innocent situations can be turned around in a variety of ways putting the police officer's focus of attention on someone who has done nothing wrong.
What if the Police Question me About my Immigration Status?
You have the right to remain silent and do not have to discuss your immigration or citizenship status with police, immigration agents or any other officials. You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. (Separate rules apply at international borders and airports, and for individuals on certain nonimmigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers.)
If you are not a U.S. citizen and an immigration agent requests your immigration papers, you must show them if you have them with you. If you are over 18, carry your immigration documents with you at all times. If you do not have immigration papers, say you want to remain silent.
Do not lie about your citizenship status or provide fake documents.
What if I am Arrested?
- Do not resist arrest, even if you believe the arrest is unfair.
- Say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don't give any explanations or excuses. If you can't pay for a lawyer, you have the right to a free one. Don't say anything, sign anything or make any decisions without a lawyer.
- You have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call a lawyer.
- Prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested. Memorize the phone numbers of your family and your lawyer. Make emergency plans if you have children or take medication.
Special considerations for non-citizens:
- Ask your lawyer about the effect of a criminal conviction or plea on your immigration status.
- Don't discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer.
- While you are in jail, an immigration agent may visit you. Do not answer questions or sign anything before talking to a lawyer.
- Read all papers fully. If you do not understand or cannot read the papers, tell the officer you need an interpreter.
This article is provided for informational purposes only by the law firm of Jeffrey R. Lessin & Associates, P.C. This article is intended to be informative and shall not be read so as to constitute an attorney-client relationship between you and Jeffrey R. Lessin & Associates, P.C.