Having a police officer or law enforcement official stop you is never a fun moment. Whether you are pulled over in your vehicle or stopped on the street, there are things to remember to protect your rights and make the situation as pleasant as possible.
Be Polite and remain calm
Police officers deal with a lot of stress and dangers in their day to day, which puts them on alert for difficult people. Even if an officer is rude, treat them with respect. This will be helpful if you need to face them later in court. Avoid escalating the situation with nasty or snarky comments.
Don’t agree to unlawful searches
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, giving you the right to refuse to be searched if you don’t feel the officer is justified. Most searches require an officer to have a warrant. However, there are exceptions for when a warrant is required. If an officer asks to have a look around your home or vehicle, you can say “no, I don’t agree to a search.”
The Fifth Amendment protects you from self-incrimination, meaning that you have no obligation to say anything to the officers. Even if you are innocent, anything you say to law enforcement can be used against you. It’s important to say as little as possible until you can speak to an attorney. You can answer standard questions for identification purposes like your name, but don’t make small talk or try to explain yourself because your words could be taken out of context.
Ask if you’re free to go
It is always okay to ask the officer if you are free to leave. If you are not being detained, then it is possible that the officer wants you to stick around for further questioning. Ask the officer, “Am I free to leave?” If they say yes, then you can politely exit the situation and carry on with your day. If they say no, then ask if you are under arrest. They may say that you are not under arrest but are required to stay for questioning.
Don’t flee the scene
It doesn’t matter if you’re on foot or in your car. If an officer asks you to stop, you should never use that as an opportunity to flee. Fleeing from law enforcement is a criminal act in itself and can also be used against you later as a “consciousness of guilt” in court.
Clarify the reasons for the encounter
There are many reasons you could be stopped or approached by a police officer. It is within your right to ask why you’ve been stopped. The three main types of police encounters include arrest based on probable cause, detention based on reasonable suspicion, and consensual contact, where you agree to answer an officer’s questions at your own free will.
Many people are taught to comply with law enforcement despite the scenario. Your right to remain silent and your right to refuse unlawful search and seizure are fundamental when dealing with law enforcement. As long as you are polite and calm, standing your ground on these rights will benefit you greatly in the long run. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied or persuaded by officers who are trying to convince you to give up your rights.
Wait for your day in court
If you feel like the officer has abused their power or violated your rights, still try to remain calm at the moment. If you’ve been unlawfully searched or detained, make a mental note of the events leading up to this moment. You can recount all of those things to your attorney later. Don’t try to fight or engage with the officer on the scene. This will only make matters worse, and if it feels like you are resisting or fighting against law enforcement, this could come back to haunt you later on.
Don’t replace internet advice for real legal advice
If you’ve been stopped by law enforcement and are concerned for your future, always consult an attorney for legal advice. Information on the internet can be useful and informative, but it is NOT an alternative to personalized legal advice. Every case is different and make sure to contact an experienced attorney to ensure that your questions are answered and you are on the right path moving forward.
If you are looking for a Houston criminal defense attorney, or advice on legal issues including DWIs, domestic violence, shoplifting, or other offenses, contact Christopher T. Gore for more info on how he can best represent your case.