Police Encounters: Know Your Rights


The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. "

The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. "

How do these rights apply to me?

  1. You have the right to assemble in public places with other people to protest government policies that you disagree with. You have the right to say anything you want in public (with a few exceptions) and not fear government reprisal. You have the right to choose your own religion and worship in your own manner. 
  2. If you are detained by police, you have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions that may incriminate you. 
  3. You have the right to refuse a search of your vehicle or home if the officer does not have a warrant or probable cause. 
  4. If you are accused of a crime, you have the right to due process of law, up to and including a jury trial by your peers. You also have the right to face your accuser and view the evidence against you in a criminal case. If you are charged with a crime you also may compel witnesses to testify on your behalf.
  5. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint a public defender to represent you. 
  6. You cannot be tried twice for the same crime if you are acquitted (also known as "double jeopardy"). 

How can I make sure to exercise my rights?

  • If you are arrested, the best and brightest thing you can do is REMAIN SILENT until you have an attorney present with you in the room. Police officers are allowed to lie to you in order to obtain evidence for a trial. They know that it's human nature to want to talk to someone about what just happened. Avoid the temptation! They are not your friends, nor will talking to them necessarily improve your chances in a court of law. Once your lawyer is present, they can negotiate on your behalf and explain what you are being accused of. Be aware that it make take many hours before you can use a phone from your jail cell to call your attorney. 
  • You should NEVER give up your right to be secure in your home or automobile. During a traffic stop, if a police officer asks if they can search your vehicle, politely, but firmly, insist that you do not consent to searches without a warrant. If the officer asks you to step outside of the car, comply but close and lock the door behind you. Oftentimes officers will view an open car door as consent for a search. The laws concerning searching your home are even more strict. Never allow an officer to "take a look around" your home or vehicle without a warrant.