Your Rights

1. You have the right to be free from unreasonable searches.

2. You have the right to be free from unreasonable seizures.

3. You have the right to remain silent.

4. You have the right to a fair trial.

5. You have the right to be protected by a lawyer.

Below is a discussion of the 5 most important constitutional protections that you should understand before interacting with law enforcement officers in any situation. Without knowing these basics, you may unintentionally waive your rights or not assert them properly when questioned by police. If you want the short version without the legal background, there is a summary section at the end on how to protect your rights during common interactions with police.

YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

1. You have the right to be free from unreasonable searches.

  • Explanation: The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from “unreasonable searches” by law enforcement officers.
    • This means that cops can’t search for evidence on your person or in your car without probable cause unless an exception applies.
    • It also means that cops can’t enter your house without a warrant based on probable cause under most circumstances.
  • How it helps: Any evidence obtained through an unreasonable search is inadmissible at trial. This means that the prosecutor cannot use the evidence to convict you, so the case becomes weaker—and more likely to be dismissed.
  • How to use this right: This depends on what is being searched, but here’s a general rule that applies to all 3 situations below: Never physically resist, but don’t ever give consent to searches.
    • If an officer wants to search your house, don’t open the door and allow police officers inside your home without a warrant. You don’t have to talk to police, even if they say that you have to or loudly pound on the door. If you choose to talk to them, ask if they have a warrant without opening the door. If they say yes, ask them to slip a copy under the door. Quite often, police will threaten to kick open the door and arrest everyone if the homeowner doesn’t talk with them or come outside. Just remember that you have the greatest constitutional protections inside your house, not outside. Remember: once you let cops inside your house or step outside your front door, you have waived many of your rights.
    • If an officer wants to pat you down or search your pockets, tell him “I do not consent to any searches, but I will not resist.” This phrase asserts your rights and also informs the officer that there won’t be a physical altercation.
    • If an officer asks to search your car, tell him no. Although police only need “reasonable suspicion” to pull you over, they must meet the tougher “probable cause” standard to legally search your car. If the officer asked you for permission to search, he probably doesn’t have probable cause or he would simply search your car without asking. If the officer begins searching without asking for permission, tell him that you do not consent to any searches. This will clear up any doubt on whether you consented to the search.

2. You have the right to be free from unreasonable seizures.

  • Explanation: The term “seizure” is a fancy legal term for getting pulled over or being arrested. The Fourth Amendment requires police to have a certain amount of proof before pulling someone over or arresting them.
    • To pull someone over, an officer needs “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity to justify the stop. A “hunch” that a driver is up to no good is insufficient proof under the Fourth Amendment. However, cops can (and do) type license plate numbers into their database to check for warrants and insurance, either of which could be a valid reason for a stop. They can also pull you over for minor traffic violations such as “No License Plate Light” or “Failure to Signal Lane Change.” Even so, officers cannot detain you for extended periods of time without justification.
    • To arrest someone, an officer needs a higher level of justification: probable cause. This heavier standard of proof is used because courts hold cops and prosecutors accountable when they attempt to deprive citizens of their liberties. If an officer cannot satisfy this higher threshold, then the arrest was illegal.
  • How it helps: This rule is similar to the “unreasonable search” rule above. Unless an exception applies, all evidence obtained after an illegal seizure is inadmissible at trial. Illegal seizures can occur when cops detain a person on foot, pull them over in a car, or arrest them for a crime.
    • For example, if an officer pulls you over just because he had a “hunch” that you’re a trouble-maker, then the officer didn’t have “reasonable suspicion” to pull you over. Therefore, no evidence recovered from the stop can be used against you. This is true even if the officer’s hunch was correct.
  • How to use this right: This depends on the type of seizure.
    • If an officer detains you in public, you only have to answer questions on name, DOB, and address. You should provide that information, but nothing else. If he questions you about anything else, ask if you are free to leave. If he says no, tell him you won’t answer any other questions without your lawyer present.
    • If an officer pulls you over, he can only keep you on the side of the road long enough to check your driver’s license/warrants and resolve the reason for the stop. Don’t fidget in the car or move your hands from the steering wheel because the cop might detain you longer or try to search. After you get your license back, ask if you are free to leave.
    • If an officer arrests you illegally, remain calm and don’t fight or resist. If the cop has made the decision to arrest you, begging or pleading won’t help. The only thing you should say after an arrest is “I will not answer any questions without my lawyer.” The less you say, the better your case.

3. You have the right to remain silent.

  • Explanation: The right to remain silent comes from the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Case law such as Miranda v. Arizona requires police to inform a person of this right.
    • If you’ve ever seen an episode of Cops, then you’ve heard this part of the Miranda Warning: “You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be held against you.”
  • How it helps: Some have heard the Miranda Warning so many times that it loses its meaning, and people often forget that the right to remain silent is a legal right. Beyond identifying yourself, you don’t have to talk to police officers if you don’t want to—even if they become abrasive, hostile, or coercive.
    • Although officers are supposed to give you a Miranda Warning before questioning suspects in custody, many times they forget or choose not to give the warning. You still have the right to remain silent, so use it! Prosecutors are intelligent and creative, so they will figure out a way to use your statements against you, no matter how believable your explanation is.
    • All your interactions with police are usually recorded. When you assert your Fifth Amendment right to silence aloud, the officer must stop questioning you immediately. If he continues to question you in custody afterwards, all statements are likely to be inadmissible. If you imagine your video playing in front of a judge, then asserting your right to silence is just like muting the audio portion.
  • How to use this right: If you hear your Miranda Warning, immediately tell the officer out loud “I will not answer any questions, and I want to speak with my lawyer.” But do not wait to hear Miranda before asserting your right to silence and a lawyer; instead, invoke your rights as soon as you are asked any questions beyond name, DOB, and address. If officers ever ask you to “come down to the station” for a few questions, they are trying to get you to make incriminating statements without reading you your Miranda Warning. Politely refuse, and tell them you will talk with an attorney first.
    • Good Example: John is pulled over late at night. John refuses all sobriety tests because he has been drinking. Cop places John in handcuffs, reads the Miranda Warning, and asks John where he was coming from and if he had been drinking. John responds “I will not answer any questions, and I want to speak with my lawyer.” John remains quiet and sits upright in the police car on the way to jail.
      • Result: John may get his license suspended for refusing the tests, but the evidence against him is not strong on these facts.
    • Bad Example: Chad is pulled over late at night. Chad has been drinking but does the sobriety tests anyway because he doesn’t want his license suspended. After failing, Chad is handcuffed and Mirandized. Cop then asks Chad where he came from. Chad says “Chummy’s, but I really didn’t drink that much.” Cop asks how much. “Only two beers and maybe one shot,” responds Chad. Cop asks if there is anything in the car. Chad says “I don’t think so.” Cop thinks Chad is lying and finds a nearly empty beer can under the seat. Chad says “Forgot about that.” On the way to jail, Chad threatens to call his uncle, who is also a police officer. Then Chad demands the officer’s badge number so Chad can report him.
      • Result: Chad admitted to leaving a bar after drinking several beers and liquor. He failed the sobriety tests, so his license will likely be suspended. Chad may face an enhancement for an open container since he admitted knowledge of the beer can. Lastly, a jury will think Chad acted like an ass by talking about his police officer uncle and by demanding Cop’s badge number.

4. You have the right to a fair trial.

  • Explanation: The Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution collectively guarantee that those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial. The right to a jury trial exists to prevent oppression by the government.
  • How it helps: These protections help in different ways before, during, and after trial.
    • Before trial, you have all the rights described on this page including: the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; the right to remain silent; and the right to talk with an attorney before answering any questions. You also have additional pretrial rights if the case proceeds beyond the initial arrest.
    • During trial, defendants have numerous constitutional rights, including the right to be represented by an attorney, to call witnesses on their behalf, to confront government witnesses through cross-examination, and to testify if they want to.
    • After trial, defendants have the right to appeal if convicted and cannot be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment. If acquitted of the charges, the Double Jeopardy Clause prevents that person from being tried for the same crime again.
  • How to use this right: This will depend on the facts of your case. If you have been accused of a crime, talk to an attorney as soon as possible to prevent waiver or forfeiture of your constitutional rights. If police officers want to question you, tell them you won’t answer any questions until you talk with a lawyer.

5. You have the right to be protected by a lawyer.

  • Explanation: The Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution guarantee that you have the right to be protected by a lawyer against criminal charges you face. Even if you can’t afford to hire an attorney, the court will appoint one for you soon after arrest.
  • How it helps: A lawyer’s job is to protect your rights. No matter what criminal charges you face, your lawyer must fight for you zealously. One important difference between you and your attorney is that your statements can be used against you in court, but your attorney’s statements on your behalf cannot be used as evidence against you. In other words, your attorney can give your side of the story without putting you in jeopardy of making incriminating statements.
  • How to use this right: Ask for an attorney instead of answering any questions. If you’ve been pulled over after drinking, remember a simple rule: Don’t walk, don’t talk, without the Law Hawk.
    • Police officers often ask questions to gather evidence against you. The officer may try to question you at your home, after pulling you over, or when you are in a public place. They’ll also demand that you attempt sobriety tests and threaten arrest or license suspension if you refuse. Don’t give them any statements or answer any questions other than name, DOB, and address. Instead, say “I will not answer any questions until I talk to a lawyer.” If you’ve been drinking, tell them you won’t do any field sobriety or blood/breath tests without your lawyer present. Refusals can be used as evidence and may result in license suspension, but if you’ve been drinking, these tests will be solid evidence for the prosecutor to use against you.
    • Any lawyer is better than no lawyer, and the sooner you ask for an attorney, the better chance your lawyer will have in the courtroom. Not all lawyers focus on practicing criminal defense, which may be important to consider if you want an attorney to fight your case instead of pleading guilty. If you need an attorney, call Bryan E. Wilson at (817) 454-5965 and get the Texas Law Hawk on your side today.

SUMMARY:

Anytime you deal with police:

  • You are being filmed and recorded. Don’t obstruct, resist, argue, beg, or verbally abuse cops, even if you think they deserve it. A jury may see the video, and it’s much harder for them to get on the bandwagon of a jerk. Let your attorney fight for you in court.
  • Never consent to any search, even if you have nothing to hide.
  • Always remain calm and be polite.
  • Ask to speak with your attorney before answering any questions other than your name, address, and birthdate.

If cops come to your home:

  • You don’t have to let police inside your home without a warrant. There are very few exceptions to this rule. One example is when someone’s life is in immediate danger.
  • If they don’t have a warrant, don’t let them inside. If they claim to have one, ask them to hold it up to a window or slide it under the front door.
  • You don’t have to talk with the police. If you do decide to talk with them at your home, step outside and shut the door on your way out.
  • Don’t consent to any search of the house even if you have nothing to hide.
  • If they use force, don’t resist or obstruct, even if they violate your rights. Let your attorney fight for you later in court.

If you are stopped in your car:

  • Pull over quickly and safely; turn off the car and put the keys on your dashboard; turn on your interior lights and wait; give him your driver’s license and insurance; before moving your hands from the steering wheel, tell the officer where you are reaching.
  • If asked “Do you know why I pulled you over?” don’t makes guesses on why the officer pulled you over.
  • Do not consent to a search even if you have nothing to hide.
  • Be polite; you are being filmed, and juries don’t like mean people.
  • If you’ve been drinking, refuse all field sobriety tests and breathalyzer/blood draw requests. The refusal can be used against you, and you may lose your driver’s license. Even so, attempting these tests or providing samples is worse for your case if you’ve been drinking.
  • Remember the simple rule: Don’t Walk…Don’t Talk…Without the Law Hawk.

If a cop detains you in public:

  • Remain calm and don’t run away, argue, or resist. Don’t put your hands in your pockets.
  • If the officer asks your name, date of birth, or address, politely answer him. If he asks any more questions, ask the officer if you are free to leave. If he won’t let you leave, tell the officer you won’t answer any more questions without your lawyer.
  • Cops can pat you down if they reasonably believe you are dangerous or have a weapon. Don’t resist, but tell the officer out loud “I won’t resist, but I don’t consent to any search.”

If a cop asks you for consent to search (person, home, or car):

  • Do not consent to any search, ever.
  • Even if the cop seems like a really nice person and makes you feel bad for saying no, do not consent to a search.
  • Even if the cop is a big scoundrel with a scary voice and accuses you of having “something to hide” since you won’t consent, do not consent to a search.
  • If the cop ignores your answer and begins searching, do not resist or obstruct. Illegal searches often result in inadmissible evidence. Let your attorney fight for you in court.

If you are arrested:

  • You have the right to remain silent, so use it! Tell the officer you aren’t answering any questions without talking to your attorney.
  • You have the right to an attorney, even if you can’t afford one. Ask to talk with a lawyer before answering any questions.

If you’ve been arrested, call Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorney Bryan E. Wilson as soon as possible at 817-454-5965 and get the Texas Law Hawk on your side.