We’ve all been there. Well, some of us anyways. Maybe it was just a routine traffic stop. Or maybe the police tried to gain access to your residence. For the most part, we’re all law-abiding citizens, but even for law-abiding citizens dealing with the police can be stressful. It’s easy to feel intimidated, but I hope that this post will help you better understand what your rights are, and how to exercise them.
You Have Rights — So Use Them!
You have probably seen an arrest on television or in the movies. Some of you may have even seen it in your everyday life. As the officer makes the arrest, they starts his spiel with “you have the right to remain silent. . .” This verbage, also known as Miranda rights, has become an staple of our cultural canon. The right to remain silent is an essential right that people tend to disregard, and they can disregard it for different reasons: sometimes people are just scared, or don’t want to seem rude, or think that they can talk themselves out of trouble. When the police tell you that anything you say can and well be used against you, they mean it!
I know many people think, “I haven’t done anything wrong, why shouldn’t I speak?” I understand the logic, but police are trained in the art of interrogation, and in getting you to say something incriminating. Many times, people who make incriminating statements do not even realize at the time that they are digging their own legal hole that will be almost impossible to climb out of later. If you want to make a statement to the police, you can always do that after you speak to an attorney. You can never take back a statement you have already made. Our history is replete with examples of people adopted the same “I have nothing to hide” mindset and wound up confessing to crimes that they did not commit.
If you find yourself being called down to the police station for questioning, bear in mind that you’re on their turf now, and police are very talented at interrogations. If remaining silent, you must specifically invoke your right to remain silent — in other words, you cannot just ignore the officer’s questions. “I am invoking my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent,” or “I’m sorry officer, but I have nothing to say without first speaking to my attorney,” are examples of statements you can make. At that point, the officers are required to cease all questioning.
Tips to Follow When You’re Being Pulled Over
If you see the flashing lights in your rear-view, you should pull your vehicle off to the shoulder or another safe place as soon as you can. You may feel nervous and embarrassed, and that’s all okay — even if you have nothing to hide, dealing with police can be stressful.
Pull over to the shoulder or side of the road depending on where you are driving. Don’t make any sudden movements or dig around the car or under the seat, as that can make the officer suspicious and possibly lead to a search of your car. Just turn off your engine and put your hands on the steering wheel and wait for the officer to come to you. It’s a good idea to always keep your proof-of-insurance, registration, and driver’s license somewhere that’s easily accessible so you’re not fumbling around in your glove compartment potentially making the officer in question nervous.
When interacting with the officer, be polite and direct. You’re not likely to do yourself any favors by being disrespectful or insulting. The time and place for debating the merits of a traffic ticket are not there and then on the side of the road with the officer, but later in a courtroom.
“Shut Your Stinkin’ Trap!”
“Do you know why I pulled you over?” is a favorite question, and your answer should always be that you have no idea. If you’re speeding, and you say that you were speeding, it’s going to be a lot harder to fight that ticket if the officer can testify that you knew you were speeding because you said so. If you’re pulled over for a different reason than the one you admit to, you’ve just given the officer another grounds for issuing a ticket (or worse).
The officer will ask you for you license, registration, and proof of insurance. You should give these to the officer, and you’re required to have these in your possession in order to operate a motor vehicle in Kentucky, and if the officer asks for them (they will) you have to cough them up. Beyond that, you are not required to give any additional information.
Never Consent to a Vehicle Search
Many people think that because a police officer asks to search your vehicle, that you are somehow obligated to oblige. Nothing could be further from the truth. One favored technique of police officers is to first ask if you have anything they “should know about” in your car. When you say no (and you should always say no), the officer may then ask if it’s okay if they search.
This is tricky — if you say that you don’t want the officer to search your vehicle, you will appear as though you just lied to the officer. People have a strong desire to appear consistent, and police know how to exploit that to leverage consent from you. The fact is, police can generally only search your vehicle in one of two scenarios: if they have probable cause to believe evidence of a crime will be found in your vehicle, or if you give them permission.
Some people think that if they refuse, that will make them appear suspicious. A refusal to grant consent cannot support a finding of probable cause. As with the Fifth Amendment and your right to remain silent, the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches. So when asked if you’re going to let the officer go through your car, invoke your Fourth Amendment rights! “I’m sorry officer, but I won’t consent to a search” should do just fine. Be polite, but be direct, and stand your ground.
Am I Free To Go?
Immediately after you refuse consent, you should ask this question. This forces the officer to make a decision — either to detain you, or let you go. If he or she detains you, she must have reasonable suspicion based on specific and articulable facts that criminal activity is afoot (at a minimum). Basically, this question will clarify whether the encounter between you and the officer is, at the point you ask it, a consensual or a non-consensual encounter. If it is a consensual encounter, that means you can terminate it by leaving. If it is a non-consensual encounter, then everything I’ve written above about remaining silent should be at the forefront of your mind. As the saying goes, the fish that doesn’t open its mouth doesn’t get caught!
You’re on Candid Camera!
One more thing — smartphones are popular these days, and many come equipped with apps to record sound. In Kentucky, so long as you are recording a conversation that you are a part of, you can record it without the other person knowing and not run afoul of the law. If, later on, your future hinges on a he-said-she-said issue between you and the officer who pulled you over or arrested you, and you have a recording that supports your version of events, you’ll be glad you have that recording.
Here is one a very popular video on the topic of what to say (or not to say) to the police. Over 2,000,000 views on YouTube, this is a talk given by a law professor and former criminal defense attorney. Please take the time to watch (with your teenagers if you have any!)
If you have any questions or concerns after reading this article or watching the video, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Baldani, Rowland & Richardson, Attorneys at Law
300 W Short St Lexington, Kentucky 40507
Hours: 8:30AM—5:00PM and by appointment
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