A Greensboro Criminal Defense Attorney Explains How to Get through an Interaction with Police.
- Play it Safe and Respectful
The first rule is to play it safe and respectful in interactions with the officer, just as you would with any other stranger you meet in the world. As many of our parents taught us, respect is a two-way street: if you give respect, you will receive it in return; and, if you don’t, be the gentleman or lady, and give it anyway: it makes you the better person. That said, being respectful doesn’t mean that you have to give up your rights or dignity (see below).
In a car, keep your hands on the wheel during the entire encounter and, if the officer asks you to retrieve your license and registration, or some other item, tell him where you are going to reach before doing so. Officers are just as concerned for their own safety and you are with yours.
- Know Your Rights
Just because you are being safe and respectful doesn’t mean that you are under any obligation to surrender the Constitutional Rights that the Founders of our country gave us and that our veterans have sacrificed defending. Examples of these rights include the following:
- Just because the police ask to speak to you does not mean you are under any obligation to engage with them. The courts have continually held that a consensual encounter with the police can be terminated by the citizen at any time. When do you know you can’t walk away? Ask the officer, “am I free to leave, sir or ma’m?” If the officer says yes, leave if you want to. If the officer says no, then you are being detained, and your 5th and 6th Amendment rights attach (see below – you don’t have to say anything, and you can ask for a lawyer).
- The Fourth Amendment: Guarantee against Warrantless Searches and Seizures. The Fourth Amendment ensures that law enforcement cannot search our cars, homes or our persons without a warrant. This means that, generally, a police officer must have a warrant to search. There are lots of exceptions to this rule; however, you are NEVER EVER REQUIRED TO CONSENT TO A SEARCH. Many, if not most, criminal defense attorneys would advise against consenting to a search in any circumstance, and especially when there is contraband in the car, in the home, or on one’s person. An officer may say “I’m going to search anyway,” or “It would be easier on you if you consent to a search,” or “I will speak to the magistrate in your favor about bond,” or “if you have nothing to hide, why won’t you let me search?” These are all either misstatements, exaggerations, or they won’t do you any good if you are caught with contraband.
- The Fifth Amendment: Do not Talk – There is No Advantage, and There is in Fact a Disadvantage. The Fifth Amendment protects us against self-incrimination. A person has no obligation to talk with the police and, in fact, has a right not to talk. Everybody has seen or heard the Miranda rights, on TV or in movies: “You have a right to remain silent [you don’t have to say anything] and anything you do say can and will be used against you [anything you do say will be used to prosecute you].” This means don’t talk once you’ve been told you’re not free to leave, don’t talk in the squad car, don’t talk in an interview room. There is no benefit. Anything said will be used, not to exonerate you or get you a lower bond (as is sometimes promised) but to prosecute you.
- 6th Amendment: Repeat after Me – I Would Like My Lawyer Present. Once a person is in custody and/or questioned by police, they have a Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel. Exercise it. A lawyer will help protect your rights, knows how to ensure that you will not endanger yourself or your case and can help negotiate things like conditions or pre-trial release, such as bond. Generally, I advise clients to phrase it this way: “I am more than happy to assist you and cooperate with you; however, I would like my attorney present.” The Constitution guarantees you a right to an attorney, exercise it – they are on your side; the police are not.