Understand Your Rights

Stopped by the Police?

The police can stop you if they have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring. If you are stopped because the police have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, they can detain you only for a short period of time while they try to figure out whether or not there is criminal activity.

“A peace officer, after having identified himself as a peace officer, may stop any person in a public place for a reasonable period of time when the officer reasonably infers from the circumstances that the person is committing, is about to commit or has committed an offense.”

In that situation, the police “may demand the name and address of the person and an explanation of his actions.” This law traces directly back to a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court case that said while the police need “probable cause” to arrest you, they can stop you if they have a “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, based on articulable facts.” That’s now known as a “Terry stop,” immortalizing John Terry, who lost his argument that the brief stop that revealed a “fully loaded automatic” violated his Fourth Amendment right “to be free . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures.” So, if a police officer “reasonably infers from the circumstances” that you’re committing, about to commit, or have committed some crime, you can be stopped in a public place. The police can then ask you your name and address. According to a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, you only have to give your name.

When could you refuse to give your name? When you’re not in a public place—one case says a front porch isn’t. Or, when the police are just making conversation, and don’t reasonably suspect you of criminal activity. Unfortunately, though, you can’t read a police officer’s mind. And if you’re going to defy the police, don’t do it because of something you’ve read in a newspaper column. Talk to your own lawyer first.

Searched by the Police?

You have the right to refuse a search of your body, your car or your house unless you are already under arrest or the police have a warrant. If the police say that they have a warrant, you should ask to see it. The warrant should specifically describe what the police can do.

Remember that the police never need a warrant to search or seize something in plain view.

  • Your Body

If you are temporarily detained by the police but not under arrest, they may pat you down to check for weapons. During a temporary stop, the police may do a pat down only if they have reason to believe that you are "dangerous". The police are not allowed to put their hands in your pockets unless they think you have a weapon. They do not need a warrant to search your pockets if you are lawfully stopped and something feels like a weapon during the pat-down, or if they saw you put a weapon in your pocket. However, if the police are looking for a weapon and find something else incriminating in your pocket, they can still use it against you. If you are under arrest, the police may search your entire body.

  • Your Car

Police do not need a warrant to search your car.

To protect yourself later, you should make it clear that you do not consent to a search by repeating, "I do not consent to a search". You should always try to remember a police officer's name, and if possible, their badge number. If you are arrested, the police can do an "inventory search" of your car after you are arrested. This means that they can search the entire car.

If you are stopped on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the police can search within your arm's reach. This means they can search anywhere in the passenger compartment for weapons. If the police have probable cause to believe that something involved in a crime is in a specific place in your car, then they can search that specific place even if you are not under arrest. However, they are not allowed to search other parts of your car without probable cause.

Police can arrest you if they see or smell anything in "plain view" in your car. It is not lawful for police to arrest you simply for refusing to consent to a search.

  • Your House

If the police come to your house, step outside and close the door while talking with them. If the police do not have a warrant to search your house, you can refuse to let them in. If you refuse to allow a search of your home, the police cannot come in unless there is some emergency inside of the house or they are chasing someone into your home. Police can search your house if they are let in by someone who they believe lives there with you. However, if you are at home and tell the police that they cannot come inside without a warrant, they cannot use anything incriminating that they find against you, even if they are let in by your roommate. If the police try to go into your house without a warrant, you should say repeatedly "I do not consent to the search" and ask for a lawyer.

In all cases, a court may review whether a search of your body, car or house was lawful.

Arrested by the Police?

If you are arrested, you have the right to remain silent and you have the right to have an attorney present while you are questioned. You should not answer any questions for the police except questions about your name and address. By law, if the police ask you questions you do not have to answer them. Tell the police "I want to remain silent. I want a lawyer." 0nce you say this, the police should not ask you any more questions. If you are arrested, you should not talk to anyone about your case except your lawyer. Anything you say to friends, family, district attorneys, or other people in jail may be used against you in court.

Your Rights if Arrested:

If you are a law-abiding citizen, your chances of being arrested are slight. It is important, though, that you know “Your Rights If Arrested.” An informed and alert citizenry is the best guarantee that these rights will be upheld for the benefit of all persons at all times. The basic rights of a citizen under arrest are stated in the Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments of the “Bill of Rights” of the United States Constitution.

  • “No person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law . . .” (Fifth Amendment).
  • “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury…and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” (Sixth Amendment).
  • “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor shall cruel and unusual punishments be inflicted.” (Eighth Amendment).

Since the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the states have also had to guarantee these rights. This amendment provides: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States …”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that as soon as you are taken into custody you must be informed of the following:

  1. You have a Constitutional right to remain silent.
  2. Anything you say can be held against you.
  3. You have the right to legal counsel and that if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you.
  4. If you choose, you may have a lawyer present during interrogation.

In addition to advising you of your rights, the arresting authorities must respect your rights. For example, you cannot legally be required or forced by a police officer or anyone else to talk, to answer questions, or sign any papers. If by threats, by persistent questioning or other means of coercion, you are forced to give incriminating information, you can prevent its use against you in court.

Within a reasonable time after you have been taken into custody, you have a right to make a reasonable number of telephone calls or otherwise communicate with an attorney of your choice and a member of your family. If you are transferred to a new place of custody, this right of communication is renewed.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, you must be informed without delay of your right to contact your local consulate or embassy. Consular officials may visit you, help you arrange for legal representation, and contact your family. You have a right to an itemized receipt for all money and property taken from your person after you are taken into custody.

You have a right to a reasonable time to prepare a defense before being tried in Court. Whether or not you declined your right to be represented by counsel during police interrogation, you have the right to be represented by counsel in Court.

You are entitled to a reasonable time to obtain a lawyer of your own choosing. If you want a lawyer and cannot afford one, the Court must appoint one to defend you.

You are entitled to know the charge against you and to have, without cost, a copy of the formal paper that contains the charge.

You are entitled to plead “not guilty.” If you do so you will be tried by an impartial jury unless you specifically waive your right to a jury trial. You are not required to testify if you do not wish to do so. If you do not testify, neither the judge nor the jury can consider your silence as evidence of guilt. In the eyes of the law you are innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the evidence presented in Court.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, the judge must inform you, before accepting a guilty plea, that a criminal conviction could result in immigration consequences, including immigration detention (custody) and deportation from the United States.

How you plead and whether you testify are vitally important questions and you should have the advice of a lawyer.

If you or a loved one have been arrested or accused of a crime contact William J. Routsis as soon as possible for an assessment of your case and begin protecting your rights as soon as possible.

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