A police officer knocking at your door or a cruiser’s lights signaling you to pull over is definitely a cause for panic! What have you done wrong, and how can you get yourself out of whatever troubles you may be in?
Confrontations with the police have no boundaries and anyone could find themselves in a predicament with the law that could be intimidating, humiliating and frightening all at the same time.
There are 3 time honored concepts that can help you more than anything else you could say or do. These are the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and if you have any doubts…read on!
The 4th Amendment protects you from unreasonable search of your home, car, papers or belongings by the police.
The 5th Amendment guarantees that you can not be forced to testify against yourself.
The 6th Amendment guarantees your right to an attorney during all critical stages of a criminal investigation.
So, when a police officer comes to your door, the first thing you must do is ask to see his warrant. Do not engage in idle chit chat with such comments as “What’s this all about Officer?” Without a warrant, you are not required to give the officer the time of day, let alone allow him to explain the reasons for being at your door or heaven forbid, permit the officer to enter your home. If the officer does not have a warrant, don’t slam the door, be abusive or yell. JUST SHUT THE DOOR.
“Isn’t that being rude?” you may ask. No. Not only is it not rude, but it is crucial to your legal well-being and immediate future. If you or some member of your family has done something to bring an officer to your door, it is your right and duty as a citizen to require the officer to act properly and legally. Without a warrant, the only way to gain entry to your home is with your consent or invitation, but if you let an officer into your home without a warrant, you do so at your own peril.
“But won’t the officer go get a warrant?” Possibly! Police officers always believe they’re in control of the situation when they show up at someone’s door. More often than not, they show up without a warrant, thinking they can gain entry because of their “authority” as police officers. But without a warrant, a police officer is simply on a fishing expedition. If there’s sufficient evidence to justify a warrant, the officer will get one; if not, he or she will just go away. In either case, it gives you time to call an attorney, who will advise you what to do.
“But what if the officer has a warrant?” Then you must allow the officer to enter your home. If it’s a search warrant, the officer will read it and you must permit the officer to conduct the search. Don’t argue, complain or yell at the officer. Let the officer know that you want to contact your attorney, but do nothing else.
If it’s an arrest warrant, permit yourself to be handcuffed and go quietly with the police. Again, let the officer know that you wish to be put in contact with an attorney – immediately! “What if you’re in the car and you see the cruiser’s lights and the officer wants you to pull over?” Do so quickly and safely. You must show the officer your driver’s license and if issued a ticket, sign it.
Many traffic stops often become drunk driving investigations. By accepting the privilege to drive in this state, you implicitly consent to take a breath, blood or urine test to determine whether or not you have drugs or alcohol in your system which might impair your ability to drive safely. Unless you are prepared to give up your driver’s license for a lengthy period of time, you should take such a test if offered.
However, this state does not require you to perform so-called Field Sobriety Tests. These tests consist of complex physical tasks, designed to prove your guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. So, unless you possess the physical prowess and precision of a professional ballet dancer, forget it. Tell the officer you are prepared to take a test to determine your blood alcohol content, but nothing more. Remember, no matter what the officer threatens or how angry he may become, your only obligation is to submit to the test that determines whether or not you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
At some point, the officer could advise you of your MIRANDA RIGHTS. Listen carefully. There are some important clues within these rights. “You have the right to remain silent” Good! Silence is good. So remain silent. Why? Because the Fifth Amendment guaranteed that you don’t have to testify against yourself and because the next thing the officer will tell you is that anything you say will be taken down and used against you in a court of law.
So, unless you want to hear your own words used against you in court, remain silent. There is absolutely nothing you can say to a police officer that will improve your situation and many things that will only make your situation much worse.
“You have a right to an attorney.”Good. You need an attorney and the Sixth Amendment guarantees you one. The officer will also tell you that you have the right to have an attorney present during any questioning. By invoking these rights and telling the officer that you will not answer any questions without an attorney present, you provide yourself the greatest shield against the police you can ever hope to have.
Forget what you have seen on TV, what your parents have told you about cooperating with the police or what friends might tell you about their past encounters with the police. Every situation is different, but your Constitutional Rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments remain the same.
Any officer, who violates your rights after you have invoked them, jeopardizes whatever case the police might have had against you. That is the strength and power of the Constitution working for you.
Remember, a confrontation with the police is unlike any other and now that you know your rights remember to use them and get to an attorney as soon as possible.