Searches and Seizures
The Constitution guarantees you the right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. If an officer asks permission to search you, your vehicle, or your home, you have an absolute right to say, “No.” An officer who has to ask for permission doesn’t believe he or she has the right to conduct that search unless you consent to it. You should always be polite, respectful, and courteous to law enforcement but that does not mean you have to agree to everything they request.
Officers will often tell you they will get a search warrant unless you consent. That is their right, but they need probable cause to obtain one. Remain polite but you still have the right to refuse the search and should continue to say, “No.”
The Right to Remain Silent
ANYTHING you say, can, and will be used against you in a Court of law. The Constitution protects you from this by guaranteeing the right to remain silent.
People tend to say too much when interacting with the police. If law enforcement questions you, you have an unequivocal right to say absolutely nothing. You do not have to confirm their guesses, their suspicions, or any other statements they make in hopes that you will reveal something to them. Nor are you required to answer most of their questions. In some circumstances, you will be required to identify yourself. But in most instances, this is the only information you are required, by law, to provide to law enforcement.
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966)
Miranda v. Arizona is the name of an important case in which the United States Supreme Court established the constitutional rules of engagement for police and their suspects. “Miranda dictates that ‘[i]f the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease.’” Miranda, 384 U.S. at 473-74. Any further “statement taken after the person invokes his privilege cannot be other than the product of compulsion, subtle or otherwise.” Id. at 474.
“Am I Free to Leave?”
If you are stopped by police, you have a right to ask if you are free to leave. If the answer is yes, then leave. If the answer is no, the very next thing you should utter are those magic words: “I want a lawyer.” These words mean the police MUST stop questioning you, and if they do not, they have violated your constitutional rights. Once you have made it clear to law enforcement that you want an attorney, you should discontinue any communication with law enforcement and exercise your right to remain silent. Your attorney will advise you as to whether, at some point, making a statement would be in your best interests.