Whether you have done something wrong or not, it is always a little intimidating to be spoken to by the police. A combination of nerves and potentially aggressive questions often leads to people giving more information than is necessary, effectively forfeiting their rights.
Knowing your rights is crucial because if law enforcement unlawfully makes an arrest, it can lead to a defendant’s case being dismissed and other benefits. It can also prevent an individual from incriminating themselves. Below are the basics of what you are and are not required to do when interacting with a peace officer that has not made an arrest.
What you are not required to do
Everybody in the United States has the same constitutional rights when being questioned by the police. If police stop you for questioning, remember that you do not have to:
- Provide identification – According to Texas Penal Code 38.02, you do not have to give your name, address or date of birth unless you are lawfully arrested.
- Answer questions – The right to remain silent is one of the most important rights someone can exercise when being questioned by police. If you want to remain silent after being asked a question, tell the officer out loud. They cannot punish you for choosing not to speak.
- Be searched – Police may conduct a “pat down” if they suspect you are armed, but they may not otherwise search you or your belongings.
- Be held without cause – If you are not under arrest, then in most cases police cannot hold you. If you wish to leave, ask if you are free to do so. If the officer says yes, then calmly leave. If they say no, ask if you are under arrest – you have the right to know why you are under arrest.
- Allow entry – Should the police arrive at your door, you do not have to allow them entry unless they have an appropriate warrant. If you choose to speak with them, calmly exit your home and close the door behind you.
If you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney. Immediately ask for one out loud and do not say anything until your legal representation arrives.
What you should do
Above are what you are not required to do; these are a few actions you can take to best advocate for yourself when being questioned by police:
- Be calm and respectful – You may be nervous while being questioned by police but try to be outwardly calm and polite to the best of your ability.
- Remember everything – Make mental notes of any seemingly important details of your encounter; something odd an officer says or does, something you notice they do not do or if they touch you may prove important later.
- Do not obstruct in any way – Even if something seems amiss, do not interfere with what the police do in any way. Remember the details if something seems wrong and speak with an attorney later.
- Be truthful – Never lie or provide false or misleading documents to law enforcement.
These actions are not necessarily backed up by laws, but they can help make your interaction with peace officers more amicable and less stressful.
These guidelines can help a person navigate being questioned by law enforcement. Remember that should the police make an arrest, it is critical to request an attorney right away. An experienced litigator will advocate for the defendant and do everything in their power to defend their client’s rights.