How to Deal with Police Questioning: What Are Your Rights?
Submitted by Guest Contributor Alfredo Acosta
It is not a pleasant feeling to get pulled over by a police officer for questioning. A million thoughts may race through your head and you might even worry about being shot.
There are many cops out there who are on a heady power trip. If you Google “police brutality,” the search results will shock, scare, and upset you. There are endless horror stories from across the globe where the rights and lives of ordinary citizens like you and me are trampled upon mercilessly by the protectors of law.
Yet, there is no reason to get overly upset during a police encounter. If you are cool and calm and act sensibly, 99.9% of the time, you will get through the ordeal without much trouble.
Here are a few things that you need to keep in mind if you happen to have a run in with law.
Show That You Are Not a Threat
Cops need to be assured that you are not armed and do not intend to cause them any harm. Put your hands up or in full view. Do not try to run or make any sudden movement. This will only make the policeman more wary.
Police are often trained to treat all members of the public with suspicion. So the cop who is approaching you is suspicious, wary, and can react at the slightest provocation. Personal safety is of prime importance and this is drilled into each person graduating from the Police Academy.
So be polite, put your hands where the cop can see them, and wait for further instructions.
Ask Whether You Are Detained
If a cop asks for your ID when you are walking on the road, ask whether you are being detained or arrested. If you are not being detained or arrested, then you have the right to refuse and walk away.
If you are in a car, you should ideally be carrying an ID, and the police have the right to check your ID at checkpoints.
Often times, people are sure of their innocence and understandably grow agitated with police questioning and protest loudly. Do not do this. Do not complain or resist anything. Do not touch a cop because you may get slapped with charges of violence and intimidation.
Keep silent and ask for your lawyer.
Exercise Your Right To Remain Silent
The safest thing to do when a cop questions you at a scene of crime or if you are detained for some reason is to stay silent. The more you give away, the more you arm the cop with information that he can use to your disadvantage.
Say that you do not wish to talk and wish to see your lawyer. This applies doubly more if you are caught in the act of more serious crimes such as robbery or arson.
If you have been pulled over for violating traffic rules or just for routine questioning, it is best you try to appear the good citizen that you are and wrap up the matter with minimal damage.
Contrary to popular perception, there are no hard and fast rules cops have to play by. They can exercise a huge amount of discretion and can decide what is best to be done at a given time; in other words, they hold your imminent future in their hands.
As a general matter, the goal is to convince the cop you are just an ordinary civilian out and about with your life, and that the mistake or wrong you [allegedly] committed was just a lapse in judgement. If you appear to fall into the category of harmless civilians, some cops will be willing to let you off with a warning. If the matter involves something more serious and you know you are busted, then you must shut up and wait for your lawyer.
Policemen have the right to lie to you to obtain the information they desire, so no matter where, how, or when the police are questioning you, do not open your mouth unless you have spoken to your lawyer.
You Should Never Consent To A Search
Only a search warrant legalizes a search on your property. In the absence of a legal, valid warrant, you should never give police consent to search your home, car, or other property.
If you find yourself in a search in seizure situation, however, do not physically try to resist or get aggressive with cops because a cop rubbed the wrong way can cause a lot of trouble.
If a cop pulls you over on the road, he cannot automatically conduct a search of your car in the absence of legal justification. He can only check your papers; he cannot search you or your vehicle. On the other hand, if you give permission for a search, the cop will certainly take you up on the opportunity. Further, the officer will not liable for the expensive laptop he dumped on the hard road.
A cop does have the right to search your vehicle if he has reason to be suspicious of criminal activity. If the search yields something illegal in your car, then he can arrest or detain you. Again, you have the right to remain silent until your lawyer arrives.
On suspicion, a police officer can conduct a pat-down search to ensure you do not have dangerous weapons on you, but he cannot look into your pockets or search your belongings or car.
In sum, never give consent to a search. Refusing to consent to a search cannot legally be held against you.
What If You Are An Immigrant?
You have the right to remain silent and need not discuss your immigration or citizenship status with anyone, including cops, immigration agents, or any other government officials. If an immigration agent requests to see your immigration papers, do provide them if you have them on you. If not, remain silent and ask for your lawyer.
Everyone in the United States, irrespective of citizenship or immigration status, has equal access to constitutional rights. But for your rights to apply, you must not lie about your status or furnish fake documents. So, if unsure of your situation, the golden rule remains to keep mum.
If you are in custody, it is important that you do not sign on any paper unless you have consulted your lawyer. You need not answer the questions of the immigration agent either and can assert your right to remain silent. Any goof-up in this regard can jeopardize your chances of staying in the United States. Discuss your immigration status only with your lawyer and with no one else.
Dealing with a police officer, or any law enforcement agency for that matter, is not a pleasant task. Even so, do not let viral horrors you have seen on social media cause you to lose control. Most cops are regular people wanting to wind up their day and go home. Once they have bought it that it is just not a crime worthy of pursuing further you can walk free.