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Your Rights During Law Enforcement Encounters

Right to remain silent

Any time you encounter law enforcement, you should know your rights.  For example, if law enforcement asks you a question where you may incriminate yourself, you may refuse to answer and invoke your right to remain silent.  You may also invoke your right to speak to an attorney.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered that police must advise you of these rights if they are subjecting you to interrogation while you are in their custody; unfortunately, many police encounters occur prior to people being placed in custody, and thus where police need not necessarily advise you of these rights.  However, even if you are not “in custody”, you still have the right to remain silent and speak to an attorney.  However, while you have a right to remain silent and speak to an attorney, lying to law enforcement in certain situations could see you charged with a crime such as obstruction of justice. 

Rights with consent to search

If law enforcement asks for consent to search your vehicle, person, or home, you may—and should—say “no”.  Some police officers may try to entice you to consent to a search by promising leniency, or by threatening to be harsher with you if you do not consent.  Do not fall prey to these tactics; decline their request of consent.  The majority of the time, if police are asking for consent that is the only way they can lawfully perform such a search.  Sometimes, police may not need your consent to search; perhaps because they have a warrant, or because some other exception to the warrant requirement exists.  If police are executing a search without your consent, do not interfere with them.  If they do not have a warrant or other exception—and they find some contraband—the best way to challenge their search is with a motion to suppress. 

Remain calm and stay safe

This is important:  anytime you are invoking your rights when speaking with law enforcement, do so calmly but assertively.  On the other hand, if a police officer is ordering you to do something, you should comply; if you do not you could be charged with Resisting Arrest or something similar.  Lastly, if a police officer is asking you to do something that you do not want to do (e.g.:  asking you to come back to their patrol car), ask if you may not.  If he’s placing you under arrest, he will not give you the option.  But if you are not under arrest, you should be allowed to remain seated in your own vehicle if you choose. 


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