CAN I TELL A POLICE OFFICER NO?

Miranda rights have become well known through both television and movies.  But despite knowing that the police have to “read you your rights,” people generally do not know or understand their rights when interacting with the police.  When can you walk away from an officer?  When do you have to stay?  Should you speak with the police?  If you are ever stopped by the police, or involved in a police investigation, these are important points to know.

WHEN STOPPED BY THE POLICE

A police officer can initially approach you in one of three ways: voluntary conversation, reasonable suspicion detention, or probable cause arrest.

If you are not being arrested, the question is whether or not you are being detained.  A police officer has no right to detain you unless there exists reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime or traffic violation. Detention means that while you have not been arrested, you cannot leave, and it is supposed to last only a short time.

However, a police officer is always allowed to initiate a “voluntary” conversation with you.  If a police officer simply asks if he can speak with you, stay calm, don’t run, don’t resist, and don’t obstruct. If the police are asking you questions, ask if you are being detained.

If you are not under being detained or under arrest, you have the right to leave. Ask if you are free to leave. If yes, and if you do not wish to speak with the police, walk away slowly and calmly.

It is important to remember that a detention under “reasonable suspicion” can lead to a probable cause arrest.  So if you are detained, and you cannot leave, remember that you still are under no obligation to speak with the police.  Just because an officer tells you that innocent people have nothing to hide does not mean you have to answer any of their questions. There is no legal requirement that you must provide information about your activities to a police officer.

Additionally, an officer is allowed to handcuff you and/or detain you in his police car. Do not resist or you can be arrested. Say nothing in the police car, as your conversation may be being recorded.

If you are arrested, you have the right to a lawyer. Request one immediately. If you want to be polite, you can say that you do not wish to speak with the police until you have spoken with your lawyer, or that you will not answer questions without a lawyer present.

WHEN STOPPED IN YOUR CAR

If a police officer conducts a traffic stop, pull over to a safe place as soon as you can.  Once stopped, turn off your ignition, stay in the car and keep your hands on the steering wheel. If the traffic stop occurs at night turn on the interior light. Roll your window down at least half way.

There is no set time limit when stopped in a vehicle.  Louisiana statute specifically limits the length of a traffic stop to no longer than the amount of time reasonably necessary to complete the investigation of any violation and the issuance of the citation for the violation.  The U.S. Supreme Court has discussed that up to 45 minutes is a reasonable amount of time for a police officer to detain you in a traffic stop and conduct his investigation. However, reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity can lengthen the traffic stop.

During that investigation, the officer has a right to request license, registration, and insurance. The officer has the right to ask you questions.  You do not have to answer those questions, however.  The police do not have a right to search your car simply because of a traffic stop, nor do you have to consent to a search of the car.

Passengers have the same rights as the driver. Even if the officers separate everyone, you can still say, “I am going to remain silent and not answer any questions.  Am I free to go?”

Once you have been issued a warning or traffic ticket, the traffic stop is legally over according to the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no law that requires you to stay and talk to the police officer or answer any additional questions.

WHEN POLICE WANT TO SEARCH

If the police do not have a search warrant, you have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car, or your home. Police may pat you down for their safety, but you can still refuse your consent to a search.

SEARCH OF HOUSE

Police officers are like vampires, usually they need your permission to come into your home. You do not have to let them in, unless they have a certain type of warrant. Ask to see and read it before letting them in. A valid warrant must have a recent date (usually not more than a couple of weeks), the correct address, and a judge’s or magistrate’s signature.  Whether or not the warrant appears correct, you should verbally say that you do not consent to the search, but you cannot prevent them from searching in accordance with the warrant. A search warrant only allows officers to look for certain items, but any contraband, even if not listed in the warrant, can be seized if it is in plain view.

A search warrant does not mean you have to speak to the officers, or make any statements. Call your lawyer immediately.

If the police come to your house with an arrest warrant, go outside and lock the door behind you. The police may be allowed to search any room you go into, so do not go back into the house for any reason.

ARREST

Police can arrest you only if they have probable cause to believe you are involved in a crime. Once you have been arrested, the police can search you and your belongings.

Whether or not they have an arrest warrant, do not resist, hide, or run, even if you believe you are being wrongfully arrested.

Say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer. Most people have the urge to say something to the police—don’t. Say immediately and out loud that you will not speak without your attorney. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you at anytime by the police. Silence is not an admission of guilt and cannot be used against you in court. When you request an attorney, the police and any other law enforcement officials are legally required to stop asking you questions.

Ask to call your lawyer—the police cannot listen to a phone call with your lawyer.

And remember, you have to continue to exercise this right if the police begin asking questions at a later time.  And keep in mind that just because an officer has not read you your Miranda warnings does not mean that it is safe to tell them things.

FINAL THOUGHTS

When you encounter the police, stay calm. Be polite. Do not interfere with the police or an investigation. Never run away, as this could be used against you as an admission of guilt. Do not lie—it is better to say nothing at all. Police officers are legally allowed to lie when they’re investigating, and they are trained to be manipulative. And keep in mind that an officer may be audio/video recording you.

Also, whenever you interact with the police, it can be a good idea to write down what was said and by whom. Write down the officers’ names and badge numbers and the names and contact information of any witnesses. If you can, record everything that happens. However, keep in mind that the police do not always like people taking notes or recording them.

Remember to exercise your right to remain silent and request an attorney. You can tell a police officer no—make sure you know how and when.

Leave a Comment