The Constitution and the Bill of Rights reserve some rights of the individual against the government, and that includes the police. If you are stopped by the police, you have several important rights, but you must be the one to exercise them.
First, you are fundamentally free to go once the police have finished a reasonable investigation and decided not to arrest you. Unfortunately, not all police officers make this clear. You are required to cooperate minimally with police officers. You must provide them with your name, ID and insurance information. You can’t just peel off in the middle of an active traffic stop. But unless you are under arrest, the police can’t hold you indefinitely after they have ended an initial investigation.
The best way to exercise this right is simply to ask, “Am I free to go?” If the officer says you are not free to go, you are essentially under arrest. If you feel the officers are stalling or holding you for longer than is reasonable, be prepared to tell your attorney all about it.
Remain silent. Really.
You’ve heard of Miranda rights, although you might not fully understand what they mean. The first of the Miranda rights is the right to remain silent. You have this right at all times when dealing with law enforcement, although you do have to cooperate with the officers minimally, such as to provide them with your ID if requested
The best way to exercise your right to remain silent is to claim the right and then actually remain silent. If an officer asks you if you have been drinking, tell the officer you prefer to remain silent. Do this even if you have not been drinking. You don’t get to answer questions that are in your favor and refuse to answer those that could expose you. If you are arrested, remain silent until your attorney arrives and you have had a chance to get legal advice.
Don’t consent to any searches
The Fourth Amendment gives you the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents like the police. However, no search is considered unreasonable if you consent to it. In essence, consenting to a search makes it legal, even if it wouldn’t have been without your consent.
To exercise this right, simply say, “I do not consent to any searches.” The officer may search you anyway, if he or she believes there is enough evidence to suspect you of a crime or there seems to be another legal reason for the search. If that search results in charges, your attorney will want to hear all the details to ensure your rights were not violated.
An attorney really is in your best interest
The other big part of the Miranda rights is the right to an attorney, but you have to ask for one. The officers may tell you that waiting to speak with your attorney will hurt you. They may claim that they cannot help you unless you cooperate. They may urge you to clear things up with a simple statement.
To exercise this right, do not engage in any significant conversation with the police before speaking with an attorney. This includes trying to clear things up or cooperate. The police can continue to attempt to interview you even after you have asked for an attorney. Cooperate with the booking process, but do not answer any questions about the case.
Police officers are often well-intentioned, but their process is not intended to protect your rights. Your civil rights are standing between you and a conviction. Exercise them.