With at least 4.9 million people arrested and jailed every year, there are a lot of cases where law enforcement illegally search, detain, and arrest citizens on record. To protect yourself during an interaction with police, you need to know and be able to exercise some important rights. 

Remember, members of law enforcement are trained to mislead you into giving your consent to be questioned and searched, even where they may have no legal right to do so. Their interrogations are designed to extract information from you that could potentially help lead them to probable cause for an arrest. 

Do not do law enforcement any favors by giving any consent unknowingly.

You have a right to ask questions, and you should exercise that right so you know the full picture. Our criminal justice system includes your right to due process, which essentially means that law enforcement must act in a way that does not infringe on your rights as a citizen.

The following critical questions are important to ask when you are talking to the police.

1. “Am I Being Detained?”

This is the first question you need to ask if police officers are insisting you go with them for questioning. Detainment is similar, but not the same as being arrested. When you’re detained, officers do not have the necessary cause (i.e., probable cause) to make an arrest. Rather, they have reasonable suspicion that’s sufficient to stop you and ask a few questions. 

If officers are detaining you, this means they have reason to suspect you are responsible for, or have information regarding, a crime. However, this also means they do not have evidence to arrest you. Therefore, if they tell you they are in fact detaining you, remain silent. 

For instance, if an officer observed you change lanes without signalling, they might have reasonable suspicion to stop you and ask some questions. However, that observation, alone, would fall short of the level of proof needed to make a DUI arrest.

Do not fall for interrogation tricks or admit to any crime. You do have the right to remain silent. Exercise it, and it will significantly reduce the likelihood that the officers will be able to gather the necessary level of proof to turn your detainment into an arrest. Upon release, be sure to contact a lawyer. 

2. “Am I Being Arrested?”

If they answer “no” to your detainment question, then ask if you are being arrested. You can only be legally arrested if the officer has an arrest warrant or probable cause to do so. During a detainment, if you admit that you have committed a crime or the officer finds evidence that justifies an arrest, you can be officially arrested. 

There is no clear line between an arrest and a detainment. The courts will decide if the interaction was an arrest or detainment based on several factors.

These factors can include:

  • The length of the stop
  • The amount of force used
  • Number of officers involved

Remember that you do not have to speak to officers, and that seeking legal aid is imperative in any situation involving police interactions.

3. “May I Speak to My Lawyer?”

Asking for legal representation is not admitting guilt. Remember that seeking legal aid is looking out for your future. Act in your best interests, just as the police are acting in theirs. 

Always ask for your lawyer, and when you do speak with police, make certain that your lawyer is present. If arrested, seek a lawyer immediately after you are released. Police have tactics and a plan when interacting with suspects. Do not make it any easier for them. 

4. “Why Am I Being Arrested/Detained?”

To ensure that the officers have probable cause and to fully understand exactly what situation you are in, always ask why you are being detained or arrested.

If you are being detained, this means they do not have evidence to officially arrest you. 

If you are being arrested, you have the legal right to know why you are being arrested. Knowing why can help you determine the kind of defense attorney you need to assist in your case.

5. “Am I Free to Leave?”

If you are not being detained, and you are not under arrest, then you should be free to go. If you ask law enforcement officers if you are free to go, and they reply in the affirmative, then you can leave regardless of any questions they may be attempting to ask. 

It should be noted that officers are not allowed to illegally detain you. 

If they say you are not free to go, and it is later discovered that they did not have probable cause to detain you, there are consequences for them. Your lawyers can help ensure that you were treated fairly and legally. If there were violations of your rights – including an illegal detention or arrest – the state might be forced to abandon any criminal charges filed against you.

6. “Do you Have a Warrant?”

Police officers may ask to search your property, your car, or your home. Do not give consent to these searches. If they are asking you if they can perform a search, this means they likely do not have a search warrant. 

If they ask you to search your property, ask them if they have a warrant to do so. If they reply that they do not, they are not legally allowed to conduct the search. An exception to this is if they possess probable cause. 

If law enforcement proceeds to search you, your property, or home illegally, contact a lawyer immediately. An illegal search and seizure is a serious violation on the part of law enforcement. 

Exercise Your Rights

These questions are important to ask when dealing with police officers. However, it is helpful to remember that there is a reason you do have the right to remain silent. Silence can potentially be vital to your case as it moves forward. 

Always speak with a lawyer before speaking to officers regarding any criminal accusations. Remember, police officers are trained to be deceptive and use trickery in an attempt to mislead you into admitting to a crime, or to get permission to search you, your property, or home. Do not fall for these unjust tactics.