Know Your Rights

At one point or another, we have all been stopped by the police. Whether it was in high school as you ran out the back door of a house party or on the highway as you roared past the slow guy in the high speed lane, interacting with the police is a part of everyday life. Unfortunately, far too many people end up with criminal charges and/or traffic tickets because they do not know their rights. In today’s blog, the Rhode Island Criminal Defense lawyers at Abilheira Law have outlined your rights during police stops.

Police Stops on the Street

Getting stopped by the police on the street can be nerve wracking. Protect yourself by keeping the following in mind:

  • Before you can be stopped, police must have reasonable suspicion that you are about to commit a crime, are currently committing a crime, or have committed a crime. The stop must be brief unless the police are prepared to make a full arrest which requires probable cause.
  • You can, and should, ask if you are under arrest or if you are free to leave. If you are free to leave, you should do so immediately and calmly.
  • You are under no obligation to provide the police with any information whatsoever or answer any of their questions. However, under Rhode Island General Law, an officer who has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity can request your identification. It may be best to provide this information to avoid prolonged detention.
  • If you are stopped, there is a chance police will “frisk” you for officer safety. This allows officers to pat down your outer layer of clothing, only for the purpose of ensuring that you do not have weapons. This does not give them the right to search within your pockets and other belongings.
  • You should never consent to a search of your person (including your pockets, backpacks, pocketbooks and bags). Agreeing to let an officer search you is considered consent and will give the police legal right to do so, even if no probable cause exists. If the police have a legal justification to conduct a search (probable cause), they do not need your permission.
  • Remain calm and be respectful to the officer with whom you are interacting. Do not attempt to run away. This will only make matters worse.

Police Stops in the Car

Getting pulled over in your car by the police can also be unnerving. Although your expectation of privacy is lower in your vehicle than it is in your home, you still have rights.

  • You do not have to open your car window fully, but you do need to turn on your dome light.
  • Avoid making any suspicious movements, like reaching under seats or into the center console. The police could think you are reaching for a weapon or are trying to hid evidence of a crime.
  • You must provide your license, registration and proof of insurance to the officer. If the officer asks your passenger for their information, they must provide it as well.
  • Do not get out of the vehicle unless you are asked to do so.
  • Again, you are not required to answer any questions the officer is asking. It does make sense to cooperate with police if you are facing a minor traffic infraction, but avoid answering questions that may incriminate you.
  • There are several specialized exceptions to the search warrant requirement when dealing with vehicles, but you should still never consent to having your car searched. Officers may search your vehicle if they observe contraband in plain view, but cannot search your trunk without probable cause, a warrant, or your consent.
  • An officer cannot detain you on the side of the road for an unreasonably long period of time. There is no magic number, so ask the officer why you are being detained if the stop seems to be taking longer than usual.
  • Resist any temptation to argue with the officer. If you feel that you were targeted by the police or ticketed for no reason, contact an experienced Rhode Island criminal defense lawyer who can evaluate and review the officer’s conduct.

Review

Remember . . .

  • Never consent to a search.
  • Do not answer unnecessary questions or make any statements.
  • Do not argue with the police.
  • Do not run away from the police.
  • Remain calm and in control of your words.
  • Be respectful.

If you find yourself charged with a traffic offense or a crime, contact the qualified Rhode Island Criminal Defense Lawyers at Abilheira Law. Your lawyer will examine each and every action taken by the police and can determine if your rights were violated.