Being contacted by the police for questioning or being pulled over for a traffic or DWI stop can be a scary and sometimes dangerous experience. You need to understand your rights and how to best handle the situation. You should also retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help you even before you are arrested and mount an aggressive defense strategy to fight any charges you face.
What Are Your Rights If Law Enforcement Contacts You?
You have important rights if the police stop you in your car or contact you when they are conducting a criminal investigation. You must exercise these rights to protect yourself and not give law enforcement officials evidence they can use to arrest and convict of a crime. Here are some important ones you should know about.
Your Right to Remain Silent
You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer the police officer’s questions. However, at a traffic stop, you are required to provide the police with your driver’s license and vehicle registration.
To exercise this right, you must tell the officer clearly that you are exercising your right to remain silent. You cannot just remain silent. You should say something like “I’m asserting my Miranda rights,” or I’m asserting my right to remain silent” to invoke this right.
Your Right to Refuse to Consent to a Search
You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of your home, car, or yourself unless they have a search warrant. However, the police can pat down your clothing if they suspect you possess a weapon and may be able to search your car in limited situations during a traffic stop.
Your Right to Leave
If you are not under arrest, you are free to leave. You should ask the officer if you are under arrest. If you are not being charged with a crime, ask if you are free to leave and then do so calmly.
Your Right to a Lawyer
If you are under arrest, you have a right to an attorney. Tell the police that you want a lawyer immediately. When you contact one, be careful what you say on the phone, as the police could be listening in on your conversation.
What Are Your Responsibilities If the Police Contact You?
You also have specific responsibilities when communicating with the police. It is important to follow them to not escalate the situation or put yourself or law enforcement officials in a position where they or your feel threatened. Here are crucial actions you should take:
- Remain calm and cooperative.
- Don’t interfere with what the police are doing or obstruct them.
- Don’t lie or give the officer false documents.
- Remember the details of your encounter with law enforcement officials, and write down what happened soon after the incident.
What Should You Do If the Police Stop You While Driving?
If the police stop you while you are driving, you need to assert your rights and keep yourself safe. Here are four steps you should take:
- Pull over to a safe spot as soon as you can. Turn on your interior light, lower your window partway, and put your hands on your steering wheel.
- Remain calm and polite when interacting with the police.
- Exercise your right to remain silent. Your passengers should also assert their right not to speak to the police.
- Do not consent to a search of your vehicle. However, law enforcement officials can search your car without your consent if they believe it contains evidence of a crime.
How Do You Protect Yourself If the Police Come to Your Home?
You also have rights you must assert if the police come to your home. As in any interaction with law enforcement officials, you should remain calm. You should also do the following:
- If the police want to talk to you, you do not have to let them in your home or agree to answer their questions. Also, do not go outside if they want to converse with you.
- Exercise your right to remain silent, and inform the officer clearly that you are asserting this constitutional right.
- Do not consent to a search of your home.
- If the police have a search warrant, ask them to slip it under your door or put it up to a window so you can read it. Be certain that the warrant refers to your home. Also, read the warrant to learn what areas of your home the officers are authorized to search.
- If the police have an arrest warrant, they have the right to enter your home to arrest the person listed on the warrant. However, they cannot come into your home without your consent if the warrant is a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) warrant for the removal or detention of someone.