Rights You Didn’t Know You Had
When people are stopped by a police officer or equivalent, most people are unaware of their rights regarding the encounter. The ill-informed crowd would have the general public believe that one must comply with ALL of an officer’s wishes. A person’s right during any routine traffic stop should be well-known.
Here are a few rights you have, according to the Law Office of the Public Defender:
1. Keep Private Items Out of View
It is best to use common sense when it comes to what’s in view. If you feel the need to carry an unregistered gun on you, hide it somewhere out of your own reach and out of sight. A police officer cannot charge you for possession of something that they themselves cannot find by sight alone.
But remember that it is a felony to be caught with a gun that does not legally belong to you. Do what you can to avoid the situation, but follow the above tip if you ever find yourself stuck there.
2. Be Courteous and Non-Confrontational
According to the public law office, you should start with a simple “Hello, officer. Can you tell me why I’m being stopped?” Depending on the officer who stopped the vehicle, you might have a harder time of it. If you get “Why do you think I stopped you?” as a response, respond with “I don’t know.” Apologizing or suggesting exactly what you did wrong can be seen as an admission of guilt.
Don’t plead guilty before you have a chance to see if there was any true wrongdoing.
When you are pulled over turn off your vehicle, then turn on the light above the center console and keep your hands on your steering wheel. And any movement to grab your registration might be misinterpreted.
Do not reach for your documents until you are asked for them.
3. Say No to Search Requests
Under no circumstances should you answer “yes” when an officer asks for permission to search your car. You are well within your rights as a citizen for forbidding a search of your vehicle. The public defender’s office recommends informing the officer with the following phrase: “Officer, I do not consent to any searches of my private property.”
Don’t feel pressured into allowing a search. Without substantial evidence, the officer is not allowed to search your property without your permission.
Any evidence obtained during an illegal search, attorneys say, is inadmissible in court as it was obtained by unlawful means.
4. Determine if You Can Leave
If you feel that you have been held long enough, you may discontinue the encounter if you are not being detained and have not been arrested. Interestingly enough, despite their place in an authority position, you do not have to answer any questions you are asked. We can thank the 5th amendment for that right, which protects against incriminating oneself in a crime.
Ask the officer “I have to be on my way. Am I free to go?” If they say yes, then make haste to your car and drive off at a legal speed. If you are asked some other question unrelated to the current discussion, ask again “Am I being detained or can I go do?” You get a no, then you’re probably getting cuffed.
Follow #5 and #6 to ensure you are exercising all your rights.
5. Remain Silent and Ask for An Attorney
We’ve all seen the movies where a person says they won’t speak without an attorney. That part of the movie is true. Do not speak about the case you’re being detained for and do not engage in any small talk or it could come back to bite you.
Assert your desire for a lawyer and say nothing until your attorney is present.
6. Do Not Try to Bargain
We are often shown in movies and shows that cooperating with the cops will always end well for that character. That isn’t the case in the real world. You are not guaranteeing a lesser sentence by confessing or cooperating, you are simply creating less work for the officer to do.
Inform the officer that you want to speak to a lawyer and say nothing else.
7. Do Not Physically Resist
If you are still arrested regardless, do not physically resist in any way. The public defender’s office recommends using the following in a non-aggressive manner: “Office, I am not resisting arrest and I do not consent to any searches.”
And if that does not work, it is best to simply exert your 5th amendment right and wait to speak to a public defender.
If you need to get a public defender, the form is available at the Court Clerk’s office for $50.00