Exercising Your Rights
As a criminal defense firm, we have seen many individuals unintentionally incriminate themselves during a traffic stop, police interview, or even during a peaceful protest. Getting stopped by law enforcement is intimidating in the best of cases, and especially dangerous for minorities in the U.S. The police will often use this discomfort to their advantage and push people to say something that could potentially lead to an arrest or conviction. We want to make sure our community understands their rights and feels empowered to exercise them. In this post, we’ll provide information on some constitutional rights along with practical ways to use them.
The Fifth Amendment
The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment states that no person shall be compelled to be a witness against themselves. Essentially, you have the right to remain silent. Lots of people use the phrase “I plead The Fifth,” in casual conversation when they don’t want to share an opinion or answer a question. With how commonly it’s used, it’s surprising to see that when people come face to face with a badge, their words come so easily. Even things you don’t mean to say, or are completely untrue can be used against you, which is why it’s so important to keep “remain silent,” at the forefront of your mind.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. Police may get angry, disparage you, and in some cases, physically intimidate or harm you. It’s not clear why people who are designated to “serve and protect” are capable of such violence against people in their community, but you want to walk away from the situation with two things: your life and your freedom. If someone in law enforcement asks you a question, although you have the right to remain silent, it’s not a good idea to take it literally. If possible, you need to assert your rights verbally. Here are some examples of phrases you can use:
- “I’m using my right to remain silent.”
- “Am I free to leave?”
- “Am I being detained?”
- “I would like to speak to my attorney.”
You may need to continue to repeat these phrases during the interaction, and using these phrases will not guarantee that you won’t be arrested. Still, it will likely improve the outcome of your case. Law enforcement has the burden of proof that you’ve actually committed a crime, so not giving them anything to work with will force them to do their own due diligence and hard work to find evidence of wrongdoing.
The Fourth Amendment
Another right often challenging to assert in the heat of the moment is the Fourth Amendment. It protects everyone against unreasonable searches and seizures, meaning that the police must have probable cause or a warrant to search you or your property. If law enforcement decides they want to search you or your property for any reason, just like with the right to remain silent, you should verbally assert yourself. Use a phrase like, “I do not consent to a search,” or request to see a warrant. It may be difficult, but do your best to remain calm and polite and always keep your hands in view.
The Fourth Amendment is closely tied to the First Amendment because a lot of people assume that since they haven’t done anything wrong, there isn’t anything to worry about. The police may also use that “logic” to get you to speak or consent to a search. The reality is that you have no idea what the police could find on you or in your home. You have no control over what others bring into your presence, but the police will assume you are responsible and press charges against you.
There are many laws put in place to protect everyone from the potential abuse of power by law enforcement in all of its iterations. In the unfortunate event that you are arrested or being detained for any reason, you should also remember the Sixth Amendment, which grants you the right to a fair trial and the right to an attorney. The police may make false promises or even lie to you to get you to incriminate yourself. Don’t make it easier for them. For guidance regarding criminal allegations, contact our office by calling (806) 372-5711 today.
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