The Law Office of Robert D. Anderson, PLLCFormer Chief Prosecutor Of Loudoun County
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Do you know your rights when stopped by the cops?

Far too few people know and exercise their rights when they encounter police. They often surrender information or access that can lead to an arrest and criminal conviction.

Don't fall into that easily avoidable trap. Below are some things to do and not to do when the police stop you or show up at your door.

You get stopped on the street

Do you know that the right to remain silent begins when they stop you? Some jurisdictions do require that you show identification, but you are under no obligation to:

  • Explain where you are headed
  • Reveal where you have been
  • Tell them where you live
  • State what you are doing

To exercise the right to remain silent, state this intention out loud. Police may pat you down for a weapn but only with your consent or a warrant may they search your purse, bag, backpack, etc. If you do not consent and they search anyway, this can bolster your case if criminal charges arise.

You get pulled over

Pull over as soon as it's safe to do so. Partially lower your window and place your hands on the wheel where they are clearly visible. Passengers should put their hands on the dash so the police can see them as well.

Give the officer the registration, proof of insurance and your driver's license. Again, you and any passengers have the right to remain silent. A passenger may also ask if they are free to go. If yes, leave without a fuss.

You have the legal right to refuse to allow a search of your vehicle for any contraband. Refusing does not preclude a search after a warrant is obtained, however. Also, most jurisdictions allow a canine to be brought to the scene to sniff the exterior.

The cops are at your door

You do not have to let them in unless they have a warrant. You do not have to answer the door, although depending on their purposes, this could escalate the situation into forced entry.

Speak to them through the door or step outside and lock it behind you. If they have a warrant, it is limited by scope and specificity in most cases.

For instance, say that they suspect that you are harboring your fugitive brother-in-law, Joe. They can come in and open the closets and look under your bed for him. But they cannot open your dresser drawer because Joe could not feasibly be hiding there.

If arrested, ask for an attorney

You may well wind up arrested, but again, you have rights. Refuse to answer any questions until you have spoken to a criminal defense attorney.

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