How to Exercise Your Legal Rights
A Guide for Protecting Your Rights During Police Encounters
Most people feel intimidated during an encounter with the police. An officer might stop you as you walk down the street to ask you questions. That experience can be unnerving. It is even more unsettling when they frisk you to make sure you are not carrying a concealed weapon. They might stop your vehicle and ask for permission to search it. They might make you exit your vehicle to perform field sobriety tests. The police might want to search your house. They might arrest you. They might interrogate you before or after an arrest.
Exercise Your Rights
All of those actions are designed to produce evidence that can be used to convict you of a crime. They are usually effective because people do not understand how and when to exercise rights that protect them during encounters with the police.
You have fundamental rights whenever the police want to:
- Search, or
- Question you
Those rights are guaranteed by the United States Constitution. They apply to every person in the United States, regardless of citizenship.
You cannot benefit from your rights if you do not understand them. The police are only required to explain certain rights to you, and then only in limited situations. The police count on people being unaware of their rights. They take advantage of that lack of knowledge.
It is up to you to learn about your rights so that you can exercise them when you encounter the police. This guide will tell you what you need to know.
You should never be afraid to exercise your rights. Some people worry that if they “just say no” to a police officer who wants to question them or search their car, their exercise of that right will make them look guilty.
If they want to conduct an interrogation or a search, the officer already suspects you are guilty. You cannot control, and should not worry about, what the authorities think. Whether you are innocent or guilty, you should exercise your rights. Exercising your rights is not an admission of guilt. It is a recognition that your rights are useless if you do not use them.