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Protect your rights when dealing with the police

Nearly everyone who has ever watched a cop or detective show on television thinks they have a basic understanding of their rights in an encounter with the police. But in truth, things usually aren't as straightforward as they appear on TV.

On TV, when the "bad guys" are arrested, they are told that they "have the right to remain silent." Somewhere else in the course of the show, the detectives on the case often are very careful to obtain all the right warrants before searching a suspect's car, home, or place of business.

In real life things don't always work this way, although they should. Police often try to pressure people into talking when they don't have to, or into consenting to a search without a warrant. If you're ever under police suspicion-whether it's for a major crime or a simple DUI-it is up to you to protect your rights. Here's what you need to know.

The right to remain silent

The "arrest speech" -- or reading of the Miranda Rights is required by the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects against self incrimination. Once a suspect is in custody and is being questioned, police must inform them of the following points:

  • Anything they say can be evidence against them in court
  • They have the right to an attorney
  • Their attorney can be with them when they are questioned
  • They can have a lawyer at no cost if they can't afford one
  • If they start to talk to police, they can stop at any time

But, these rights exist all the time - they don't just start once the Miranda warning is read. Often, police will try to get a suspect to talk before an arrest made, hoping that the suspect will say something incriminating before the lawyer gets called.

You should never talk to the police without a lawyer present, no matter what. If police try to ask you any questions, you should politely tell them that you are invoking your right to remain silent and wish to speak to an attorney. You can do this at any time, even if you haven't been read your rights.

Search and seizure

The 4th Amendment protects people against unreasonable search and seizure. In most cases, this means that police need a warrant to search a person's home or belongings.

Getting a warrant can be a very burdensome process, especially if there isn't a lot of evidence to indicate criminal activity. As such, police often hope that a suspect will simply consent to a search, bypassing the need for a warrant altogether.

It can be hard to say "no" to a police officer, especially when you're feeling scared. Police count on that. They'll tell you that things will be easier if you just let them search your car, or look in your bag. This isn't true. You're always better off saying no.

If an officer asks to conduct a search, politely tell them that you do not consent to a search without a warrant. If the officer conducts the search anyway, do not physically resist-this could land you in even more trouble. Continue telling the officer you do not consent, and then tell your lawyer about what happened as soon as possible.

Always call a lawyer

It's not easy to say no to the police, but it's the most important thing you can do to protect your rights. If you are ever arrested or questioned by the police, contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Together, you can work out a plan to protect your rights and your future.

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