6 Crucial Questions to Ask When Dealing with Law Enforcement
Dealing with law enforcement, whether through a DWI stop, a routine traffic stop, or a search warrant, can be intimidating, so it is ever more important to keep your wits about you and understand the questions you need to ask to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Am I Being Detained?
If a police officer stops and questions you, this is always your first question. An officer has the legal right to detain someone based upon reasonable suspicion, but this does not give them the right to hold you unreasonably. If police responds that you are not being detained, ask if you are free to leave. When the officer confirms you are free to leave, simply walk or drive away.
Do not answer any further questions by the police. Police will ask these questions to try and build a case against you, however you are under no obligation to answer them. Officers may taunt you or attempt to provoke you to find a reason to detain you longer, or even to arrest you. It is imperative that you do not respond to these taunts, you do not escalate the situation, and you do not answer any of their questions.
How Long Am I Being Detained?
This question is important but understand that the officer is under no legal right to answer, so do not get mad or agitated if she does not give a clear answer. To detain on reasonable suspicion, an officer can only hold you for a reasonable time, but this will vary upon the circumstances and type of suspicion. Typically, a reasonable time frame is however long it takes to either absolve or confirm the suspicion. Thus, an officer truly may not know how long the detainment will be for.
However, if the officer has stopped searching or questioning you, and then started searching or questioning on the same grounds, this is typically a good indicator that the officer is now grasping for reasons to continue the detainment. If you find yourself in this situation, ask again how long you are being detained for. If the officer refuses to answer, document this behavior and consult an attorney.
Why Am I Being Detained?
This is important so you can understand what grounds the officer is basing the detainment on, as well as possible evidence he may be looking for. Once the officer tells you, invoke your right to remain silent. Do not explain why the officer is wrong or why you are innocent. The more you talk, the more ammunition you are giving the officer to build a case against you. If the officer finds evidence that is one thing, but do not get arrested because you told the officer everything he needed to hear.
Remember that everything you say is being used against you, and this may make it that much harder for your attorney to defend you later down the road. Be mindful of what the officer is after, but do not ever attempt to explain your way out of a situation.
Am I Under Arrest?
This question will tell you if the detainment has graduated into an arrest. If you are being arrested, this means the officer has developed probable cause. Do not question what grounds they have established probable cause or argue if they have probable cause. This is the job of your attorney.
Do You Have a Search Warrant?
Under the Fourth Amendment, officers cannot unreasonably search your property. Always ask if an officer has a search warrant, and if they do so, they must present that document to you. An officer cannot search your car without probable cause, so do not give consent to search. An officer can search your car after an arrest, as well as pat you down for weapons, but that is the extent without a warrant.
If an officer searches your property without either a search warrant, probable cause, or your consent, it is important never to obstruct the search or interfere. Even if the warrant is baseless and illegal, obstructing will only result in additional charges to be filed against you. Instead, document the search and relay all the information you can to an attorney after the fact.
Can I Speak to an Attorney?
If you forget to ask any other question, it is in your best interest to always remember this one. You have the right to consult with an attorney and have one present during all police questioning. If you ask and the officer responds with a question of their own, turn your question into a statement and firmly state that you are invoking your right to talk to an attorney. If they outright deny this request, do not become argumentative, but be sure to tell this to an attorney after the fact.