If you are stopped somewhere by the police — say, while walking down the street — do you know what your rights actually are?
Most people really don’t. While a lot of people know that they have a right to remain silent when arrested to avoid self-incrimination, the rest of their rights are somewhat of a mystery.
This is what you need to know:
1 – Officers can stop you anywhere you are and ask you reasonable questions. The stop can’t be unjustified. However, they don’t have to remind you of your rights (or read you the “Miranda” warning that many people are familiar with from television and movies).
2 – You still have the right to refuse to answer most questions. In order to clearly invoke that right, you need to say that’s what you are doing. A statement like, “I wish to remain silent,” or “I refuse to answer questions without an attorney,” is sufficient.
3 – You do have to give the officer your name, address and date of birth if you’re stopped in a public place and the officer requests it. If you don’t, you may face arrest.
4 – You don’t have to tell the officer why you are there. If the officer asks, you can reassert your choice to keep silent.
5 – You are not required to give the officer permission to search your person or vehicle. If an officer asks, say that you are not giving permission. If the officer persists, he or she will have to justify the search later to a judge. A pat-down search for weapons is sometimes justified.
6 – You can ask the officer if you are allowed to leave. If the officer says that you are, you can simply walk away. If you’re told that you cannot leave, consider yourself detained. Assume that an arrest may follow.
It’s perfectly normal to feel tense and uncomfortable when stopped by a police officer. However, remember that you do have rights. You can remain silent, refuse a search and walk away unless you are being detained. If the officer violates your rights, don’t resist — that’s an issue for your criminal defense attorney to handle if it goes to court.