With the methods of law enforcement in Missouri and across the United States coming under scrutiny over the past year, it is important to know how to respond to police if you are ever confronted. Regardless of your political affiliation, knowing and exercising your constitutional rights can save you thousands in legal fees, even if you are innocent.
Most importantly, what are your rights? Anyone who has watched a cop show knows the typical Miranda phrase, “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney.” But how do these rights apply to run-ins with the police?
Right to Remain Silent
During almost any situation with the police, you are not required to speak. If the officer asks how your day is going, you do not have to respond. If he asks how many drinks you had tonight, you do not have to respond.
Important note: Generally, it is important to clearly verbalize you are exercising any constitutional right. Say, “I am invoking my right to remain silent.” It is ironic that to invoke your right to remain silent, you must speak.
The right to remain silent is a constitutional right that you cannot be punished for exercising. An officer may say that choosing to remain silent makes you look guilty, but he is only trying to pressure you into giving incriminating information. The officer knows he cannot use your silence as evidence of any crime. While law enforcement can deceive and lie to you, it is almost always better to remain silent than lie to an officer.
In Missouri, there are exceptions to the right to remain silent. In most major cities, including Springfield, an officer can demand you give him your name, address, what you are doing, and where you are going if he has reasonable grounds to suspect you have committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime. Anywhere in Missouri, when an officer pulls you over while driving, he can ask for your driver’s license, registration, and insurance information.
Right to an Attorney
Generally, if you are unable to afford an attorney, the State will provide one for you after you have been arrested depending on your charges and circumstances. So, what if you do not have an attorney and you have been stopped by a police officer? If you do not have an attorney, it is best to remain silent until you can hire an attorney and discuss what you want to tell the police, if anything. If you cannot afford an attorney, remain silent. If you are arrested, continue to remain silent until an attorney is appointed to you.
If an officer is attempting to question you, simply state, “I am invoking my right to remain silent until my attorney is present.”
Right to Withhold Consent
The right to withhold consent is not per se in the Constitution, but you do have a right to privacy. If an officer asks to search you or your vehicle, always ask if they have a warrant, and, if not, say, “I do not consent to be searched. I am invoking my right to privacy.” If you consent to the search, the officer is not required to have a warrant to conduct the search. Ask yourself, “If the officer has sufficient evidence to get a warrant to search me, why would he need to ask my permission?” If the officer asks, he is not trying to be nice, he is simply fishing for something illegal. Withholding consent to be searched can potentially cause an entire case against you to be thrown out.
Questioning the Police
While it is imperative to remain silent while the police are questioning you, it can be helpful to question the officers in return. The following questions can be effective:
- What is your name? What is your badge number? What department or agency are you working for?
- What probable cause or reasonable suspicion do you have to search me?
- Do you have a warrant?
- Am I under arrest?
- Am I free to leave?
- Would you like to speak to my attorney?
It is important to be polite when asking these questions. Angering the officer could lead to unnecessary escalation of the situation which could place you in danger. Despite this, it is important to not be bullied into making incriminating statements. It can be a difficult line to walk.
Common Tactics Used by the Police
It is important to understand the tactics used by the police during these confrontations and recognize when they are being used against you.
Lying or Deceiving
Even though it is almost never a good idea to lie to the police, lying is a common technique used by the police to elicit incriminating information. Officers will often attempt to get you to confess by claiming they already have incriminating evidence against you. They may claim a witness saw you commit the crime, or they already found the contraband in your home.
Another form of lie or deception is when the officer claims that by exercising your right to remain silent, by consulting an attorney, or by withholding consent you are incriminating yourself. This is simply untrue. Exercising your rights cannot be used against you at trial, and the officer cannot use it to establish probable cause or reasonable suspicion against you.
Pressuring You to Not Exercise Your Rights
Similar to claiming that exercising your right to remain silent, to attorney, or to withhold consent is incriminating, officers will try to use various techniques to get you to give information or allow them to search without a warrant. Officers will often try to intimidate you, play as your friend, say that it is not that big of a deal, say it should not take that long, etc. They will say things like, “You don’t need an attorney here for this” or “This is just standard procedure.” The officer may even threaten you with jail time if you do not give up your rights.
The police will often try to convince you that they are on your side. They will make promises that they have no intention of keeping. “If you make this statement, we won’t use it against you. We’ll just use it against the other guy.” “If you consent to the search, we’ll make sure you get a light sentence.” It typically revolves around a ‘you help us, we help you’ promise, but they are under no obligation to uphold their end of the deal.
Seeking Legal Help
If you are expecting to be charged or have already been charged with a crime as a result of statements made to the police or after you have been searched, it is very important to seek legal help. Contact The Law Office of Adam Woody in Springfield, Missouri at 417-720-4800.
On behalf of Marcus Clouse, Intern