Peter Blair | April 5, 2022 | Criminal Defense
Most everyone has heard that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars unreasonable search and seizure. Oftentimes, an individual’s freedom or ability to go about their day can be impeded by law enforcement. An officer may stop an individual for a traffic stop, for example.
Other times, law enforcement could stop to speak to someone in the course of a legal investigation, i.e., interviewing people while investigating a crime or a call for service. It could also be simply stopping individuals in the midst of their legal duties, such as a planned roadblock or in an emergency situation.
No matter the context of the interaction, there are key questions you should ask the police to ensure that the interaction plays out smoothly. Read on to learn more.
Does It Matter How I Phrase the Questions?
It is incredibly important that you maintain a professional demeanor and tone when addressing the police officer. Be as respectful, polite, and cooperative as possible under the circumstances. Do not become overly aggressive or defensive, as this could not only escalate the officer’s behavior but could be used against you. This is because oftentimes, these interactions are recorded on body cameras or by witnesses.
Consider that a jury may one day view your actions and responses. Try to make the officer look like the unreasonable one, not the other way around. Even if you are understandably upset, yelling obscenities at the officer will not likely help you in the end – even if the right to freedom of speech allows you to curse, in theory. It simply is not going to help your case and could worsen the situation.
What Should I Ask?
What are your rights, and what are you allowed to do or say in these instances? Everyone has a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures, and there are limited exceptions to that fundamental right. An officer is allowed to legally detain a person for a few reasons, and during that legal detention, a person is not free to leave.
Therefore, the first most critical question is:
Am I Being Detained?
If you are not being detained, you may ask the officer: am I free to go? If you in fact are not legally detained, you should be able to be free to go on about your way without being further delayed by the police.
Am I Being Arrested?
However, if you are being detained, you may then ask, am I being arrested? If so, may I ask why I am being detained/arrested? The police must tell you the reason for your arrest or detainment.
Do You Have a Warrant?
The police may wish to search your person (pockets, body), your vehicle, or your home. You may ask, do you have a warrant? If you are in a vehicle or outside of your home, a warrant may not be needed.
If there is probable cause that a crime was committed, the officer may make the arrest and search the area immediately surrounding the person.
What Happens if the Detention or Arrest is Illegal or Unlawful?
Law enforcement might search a vehicle without valid consent, without probable cause, or might search a home or residence without a warrant. It is critical to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to review the specific facts in your particular situation to determine if the stop or detention is illegal, if the search is unlawful, or if the scope or length of detention exceeds what would be allowable under the law.
If the stop or search is unlawful, and there was evidence found as a result of that stop or search, that evidence could be suppressed and therefore could not be used against you.
In order to assess the strength of any potential motion to suppress on this basis, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney who has experience challenging these types of cases.