An increase in media-documented instances of police brutality has sparked a national discussion regarding the amount of power the police should wield and the rights of the individual when stopped by the police. With increasing misinformation, it is more important than ever to have a clear understanding of your rights. “You have the right to remain silent” is popularly parroted by television detectives and police officers upon arrest, but it is common to misunderstand the degree to which this is a real tenet of criminal justice. You are not legally required to answer a police officer’s questions, outside of identifying information, and will not be incriminated or presumed guilty if you choose not to speak. However, you must answer an officer’s questions regarding your identification, or you could be construed as resisting or obstructing. You should identify yourself and answer any questions pertaining to who you are. Any questions pertaining to an alleged criminal act need not be answered. Additionally, you do not have to consent to a search of your vehicle. You may say no if you are asked.
At any point during your encounter with the police, you can ask the officer speaking to you if you are free to go or if you’re being arrested. You are allowed to be detained for a reasonable period of time, enough to determine if there is probable cause to believe you committed a crime. If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you can ask for an attorney and regardless of your financial need, you will be provided a public defender by the county. Many criminal justice and expungement lawyers recommend obtaining a lawyer as soon as possible in order for you to understand everything that is happening and to prevent potential mistreatment or miscarriage of justice. Rights aside, or even if you forget what you are or are not allowed to do, it is important to stay calm.
Tragically, recent events have indicated that sometimes, doing all of the above may not be enough to protect you from violence. Philando Castile reportedly did all of the above and was still killed by police gunfire. The burden lies on all of us to keep social institutions accountable and ensure that written rights are practiced rights.