The Bill of Rights makes a number of guarantees that restrain the government in dealing with individuals. The government cannot prevent us speaking our minds, practicing our religion, or owning firearms. In criminal matters, we have the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury. If found not guilty, we cannot be tried a second time.
The fourth amendment forbids the government from unreasonable search and seizure of our persons, houses, papers, and effects. The fifth amendment guarantees that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. That means we have the right to remain silent in the face of questioning by the police. The defendant cannot be forced to testify in his own criminal trial.
Should I answer questions?
When a person is arrested for a crime, no police officer may question that person unless they have read them their Miranda warnings first.
Most law enforcement officers carry the card shown below in their pocket and read directly from it. You should listen: This may be the best advice a police officer will ever give you.
Notice the question at the very end of the warning card. The answer to that question should be: "No, I want to talk to a lawyer."
Until you are able to discuss your case with an attorney, you should not make any statement about your case. This is an absolute right. See WARNING NUMBER 1.
The reason you should not answer any questions is noted in WARNING NUMBER 2. (See, I told you this was good advice.)
What if the police want to search my car?
My purse or clothes?
If the police ask to search you or your stuff, you can and should say no. If they already have legal grounds to search, they will do so--with or without your permission.
If you are searched illegally--and without consent--any evidence discovered may later be thrown out of court.
Your lawyer can look at those issues and file a motion to suppress if the search was illegal, but that will not happen if you give consent to a search.
BE POLITE. DO NOT RESIST, BUT DO NOT AGREE TO THE SEARCH.
THE BOTTOM LINE
- Until there is a chance to talk to a lawyer, do not answer questions (or say anything to anyone) about your case. In an encounter with the police, suspects can preserve their rights by TELLING police they are exercising their right to remain silent and that they want to talk to an attorney first. While the police can never make a person answer questions, prosecutors may later use a suspect's silence against them, unless the suspect clearly claims that right at the outset.
- Do not agree to a search.