What are Your Rights When Stopped by Police?
When police officers stop you for questioning, pull you over for a moving violation, or place you under arrest, it’s vital to know your rights. It’s also important to remember that anything you say to any government agent can potentially become ammunition against you in a legal dispute. If you have specific questions about your constitutional rights, reach out to an attorney in your area.
Every American has the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows American citizens to avoid self-incrimination. This right applies to any situation involving law enforcement, but it’s important to use good judgment.
American citizens also have the right to be free from any unreasonable searches and property seizures under the Fourth Amendment, which allows the right to privacy. Without a legal warrant, police officers and other government agents may not enter your property. The only exception is in case of emergency, such as a person inside the property calling for help.
The First Amendment of the Constitution gives citizens the right to freedom of speech and peaceable assembly, and the right to peacefully protest government policies. Recently, the United States has seen a rash of protests turning violent in which political opponents have attacked one another and destroyed public and private property. It’s important that if you decide to participate in any marches, rallies, protests, or other advocacy endeavors that you take personal responsibility and avoid illegal acts such as violence and property destruction.
Law enforcement officers in the United States must have justification to stop and search someone, known as “probable cause.” For example, a police officer may pull over a car for speeding and issuing a moving violation. While this is typically a minor infraction, if the officer detects the presence of alcohol in the vehicle, such as a strong odor or visible, opened alcohol containers, this would constitute probable cause and allow the officer to search the vehicle in some jurisdictions.
Whenever a police officer stops you, you have the right to know whether or not you are under arrest and the reason for the arrest. Additionally, you have the right to refuse a search and police may not place you under arrest solely for refusing a search. Bear in mind that if you consent to a search it can negatively impact your rights later if the issue escalates into a court battle.
You also have the right to remain silent when under arrest. Whenever a police officer places a person under arrest, the arresting officer must read the individual his or her Miranda rights. The police officer will inform the arrested individual that he or she has the right to remain silent and reminds the individual that anything he or she says may be used against him or her in court. The officer will also tell the individual that he or she has the right to an attorney, and may secure an attorney through the court if the suspect cannot afford private representation.
Know Your Options
One of the best ways to protect yourself from unlawful violations of your constitutional rights is to know the laws in your state and avoid breaking them. If police question you about an incident as a witness or person of interest, be cooperative but remember to answer questions as concisely as possible. It’s wise to have an attorney present if possible, especially if you are implicated in any wrongdoing.
If you find yourself in trouble with the law, a defense attorney can help mitigate the penalties you may face. Additionally, your lawyer may be able to have cases thrown out if arresting officers or other government agents violated your constitutional rights.