Seeing blue and red lights in your mirror can be one of the scariest moments of your life. The number of deaths from police-involved killings reached 532 within the first six months of 2016. Whether the reason for the deaths is because police are following protocol, feeling threatened, or making mistakes, too many people are dying at the hands of law enforcement officers. As citizens of the United States, we have distinct rights, which are outlined in the Bill of Rights. So, it is important to know your rights and how to conduct yourself so that you can attempt to diffuse tense situations and feel safe when encountering police officers. Here are a few things that you can do:
Have your license, registration, and proof of insurance in a visible area to avoid having to reach for it. Keep your hands where the officers can see them. By not making any sudden movements, you lower the risk of police being nervous or anxious when approaching you.
When you are asked for your license and vehicle information, and provide the requested information, say and do nothing else. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in the court of law. Exercise your right and elect to stay silent.
If asked any further questions, say, “I choose to exercise my right to stay silent.” You DO NOT have to answer questions asked by police officers. This is because you have the right not to incriminate yourself. In other words, you have the right to remain silent when talking to police even if you are being detained by an officer, have already been arrested, are in jail.
If asked to exit your car so that officers can conduct a search of your vehicle, you have the right to say, “I do not consent to a car search.” Without your consent or a warrant, there must be “probable cause.” Refusal to allow a search IS NOT sufficient cause to justify a search of your vehicle. Remember, however; that police are not obligated to tell you that you can refuse a search, so know your right to refuse the search. If they insist on searching after you have refused consent, and they do not have cause to search, do not protest. Your lawyer can handle the outcome of the illegal search in court.
Which Amendments Protect You?
Police are required to abide by three amendments:
The Fourth Amendment: Prohibition against Unlawful Search and Seizure. This Amendment prohibits government officials from improperly taking property, papers or people without a valid warrant based on probable cause (good reason).
The Fifth Amendment: The Right to an Attorney and to Avoid Self-Incrimination. This Amendment protects people from being held for committing a crime unless they are properly indicted, prevents them from being tried twice for the same crime, affords the right to refuse to testify against yourself, and prohibits the taking of your property without just compensation. It also contains due process guarantees, such as the right to notice and a hearing.
The Sixth Amendment: The Right to a Speedy and Public Trial, to Confront Witnesses and To Compel their Testimony, to Legal Counsel, and to an Impartial Jury. This Amendment provides the right for you to ask to speak to a lawyer to stop police interrogation in any setting.
It is always good to comply with police officers, but know your rights so you can decrease the risk of being subjected to stereotyping, discrimination, or racism. People should not have to give up their rights in encounters with officers to prove they were not resisting arrest; but once again, you have to know your rights to assert them. Many people submit to searches when asked because “they don’t have anything to hide.” Even if you have nothing to hide, you have the right to refuse to give consent to search. If you consent, you will not be protected against subsequent violations of your rights. When you submit to a search, you may be allowing a pathway into your person, your home, bag, car, trunk, glove box and under your seat. Know Your Rights!
Always work to diffuse a tense situation. Remain calm, do not run, do not suddenly reach for anything, ask if you are free to go, do not touch an officer, and live to report what you suspect was a violation of your rights. Remember your rights!