Your Rights

Interactions with the police can be stressful, which makes it important to know your rights before such an encounter occurs.  Many people are familiar with the famous “Miranda Rights” which read as follows:

  1. You have the right to remain silent
  2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law
  3. You have the right to an attorney
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you
  5. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?  With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?

The police are obligated to inform a suspect of these rights (sometimes referred to as “mirandizing”) in the event that they wish to interrogate that person under custody.  Invoking your right to remain silent clearly and verbally before or during questioning will stop the interrogation, while invoking your right to an attorney prohibits any questioning until said attorney arrives.

However, it is important to note that the police are only required to read you these rights if they intend to take you into custody, and so the majority of interactions between individuals and the police do not arrive at this point.  You can exercise any and all of these rights before the police read them to you, including your right to remain silent.  The ACLU of Northern California provides these basic guidelines for interactions with police before the “mirandizing” step:

  1. Exercise your right to remain silent by clearly stating “I want to remain silent”  DO NOT lie to the police, they cannot force you to answer incriminating questions.
  2. Ask if you are free to go.  If they reply yes, leave calmly and without saying anything else.  If they say no, ask them to tell you why you are being stopped.
  3. Make it clear to the officer that you do not consent to a search of either your person or your vehicle by stating “I do not consent to a search”
    1. But do not physically resist a search.  If the officer searches you or your vehicle after this point, they are violating your rights and any evidence obtained in this way will be inadmissible in court.
  4. If you are given a ticket, you must give them your name and birth date, as well as sign the ticket.  Refusing to do so can lead to your arrest.

In all interactions with the police, it is in your best interest to be respectful at all times.  Make your intentions as clear as possible to avoid any chance of a misunderstanding.  For example, you should wait to look for your license and registration until the officer asks you to do so, and when they do, state something like, “I am reaching over to my glove box to get my registration”.  Follow instructions with the police but remember your rights so that you know what they can and cannot obligate you to do.

In general, it is best to say less rather than more to the police. As the Miranda Rights state, “anything you say can and will be used against you,” i.e. what you say cannot provide exculpatory evidence on your behalf. In short, if the police suspect you of having committed a crime there is almost nothing to gain from talking to them and everything to lose.

For a more in-depth look at your right to remain silent, see this lecture by James Duane, a law professor at Regent University.

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