Know Your Rights: Frequently Asked Questions

The police are here. Now what?

When people hear that I’m a former prosecutor and long-time criminal defense attorney, the most common question with variations to some degree I get is, “What do I say if the police pull me over/call me/knock on my door?”

In this brief and general explanation, I’ll give you the advice sought by so many people to these common questions. This is not meant to be complete and utter legal advice for you to rely on wholeheartedly. Every scenario and case is different in the real world. There are thousands of variations of every single situation that could change or affect your case-specific outcome. My job as a criminal defense attorney is to pick apart and surgically determine what is the best way to find a victory in your case. The following information is simply general advice and should be received as such. Always immediately engage the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney should you find yourself being sought by law enforcement to provide a statement or be investigated.

Having said that, this information should provide some guidance as to what your rights are, how you should respond, and what to do if the police want to speak with you, your family, and your friends.

What do I do if the police knock on my front door?

  • “We’d like to talk to you. Please step outside.”

    Do not step outside. You are NEVER under an obligation to speak with police, defense investigators…anyone. Period. You have every right to speak with and not speak to whomever you want. Here is a safe but polite response: “What is this about? Do you have a warrant?”
  • “We’d like to talk to you. Can we come inside?”

    (Through the door) “What is this about? Do you have a warrant?” If not, then there is no reason to let law enforcement into your house – period.
  • “We’d like to talk to you.”

    “Do you have a warrant?”. There is a pattern here – no warrant? No reason to speak to the police without a lawyer – period. In each of the three scenarios above, there is absolutely nothing wrong with telling the police respectfully, “I’ll be happy to speak to you once I have my lawyer with me. Please leave a card, or your name and number, and I’ll get back to you.”
  • “Do you mind if I just search your house real quick?”

    “Do you have a warrant?” If so, comply with the warrant but don’t ask any questions – let them in to do their search, and ask for the warrant first. If not, then “No. You cannot search without a warrant.”
  • “Is that your car? Can I search it really quick?”

    “Do you have a warrant?” If so, comply with the warrant but don’t ask any questions – let them do their search, and ask for the warrant first. If not, then “No. You cannot search without a warrant.”
  • “We’d like to talk to you. Please come to the station with us, otherwise we’ll just have to go another way.”

    “No warrant? Then do you whatever you have to do.” Let them arrest you, or you’ve just called their bluff. Either way, be polite and simply tell them you want your lawyer present or to speak with him/her first.
  • “If you don’t talk to us or come with us, you could get arrested or in trouble.”

    That’s just not true. You have every right to speak to or not speak to whomever you want: police, defense investigators, etc. It is YOUR choice. And if you’re already truly in trouble, you shouldn’t be speaking to police regardless, and only talk to your lawyer.
  • They started searching my car or my house anyways, so do I just consent then?

    ABSOLUTELY NOT! Just because they are searching doesn’t make it legal. So even if they start searching and then ask again if they can search your bag, the rest of the car/house, etc., do NOT agree – “I am NOT consenting to this search.” BOTTOM LINE: DO THEY HAVE A WARRANT? If they have an arrest warrant, just let them make the arrest but DO NOT talk with them until you’ve spoken with your lawyer. If they have a search warrant, DO NOT talk to them but let them search.

What do I do if the police pull me over?

  • “Have you been drinking?”

    “No.” Regardless, you’re giving police the right to begin their investigation of you, whether you’re under the influence of alcohol or not. The same is true if asked if you’re on medication or are taking drugs.
  • “Do you have anything illegal in your car?”

    “No.” And do not admit if there is anything illegal in your car. You’re giving them legal grounds to then search the vehicle. Period.
  • “Where are you going? Where are you coming from?”

    “With all due respect, why did you stop me and am I free to go?” This is about their traffic stop, not your direction of travel. Do not answer questions.
  • “Can I search your car?”

    “Not without a warrant. I am not consenting to a search. Am I free to go?” Period.
  • “Please step out of your car.”

    For officer safety, they can ask you out of the car. Simply comply, and ask “Why did you stop me? Am I free to go?”
  • “Please do some field sobriety tests for me.”

    “With all due respect, I am not performing any field sobriety tests. Am I free to go?” They may end up arresting you if in fact you had been drinking or otherwise, but why give them evidence to support that conclusion? If they don’t have the evidence/results of field sobriety tests, they potentially just arrested you without probable cause.
  • “I’d like for you to give a breath test to check the presence of alcohol.”

    We are talking here about a breathalyzer BEFORE arrest for a DUI out in the field, not at the station. Unless you are on probation for a DUI or another alcohol-related offense that requires you to comply, you are under no obligation to give that test. Once arrested you have to provide a breath or blood test, or you could be subject to a longer suspension of your driver’s license than otherwise. If you are on probation, you have to consent to the field breath test. Otherwise, “with all due respect, I am not consenting to a breath test. Am I free to go?”
  • “Do you mind if I check in your trunk real quick?”

    “Do you have a warrant? I’m not consenting to a search.”
  • Now that I’ve been pulled over and am detained, can they just go in my car?

    No. “I am not consenting to any search of my car. Period.”
  • What if they ask whose property/cash/bag this belongs to?

    “I am not answering any questions without my lawyer. I am not consenting to the search of anything.”

What do I do if the police call me on the phone?

  • Do I have to answer questions?

    No. You do not have to answer any questions. And sometimes, police will have other people (such as alleged victims) call you on the phone to ruse you into a statement that can be used in court. So be careful speaking on the phone.
  • What if they say I have to come to the station or I can be arrested or in trouble?

    Not true. They either have enough evidence for an arrest already, want you to make a statement that could lead to arrest, or are just trying to make you feel as though you have to comply. You have the right to speak to whomever you want, and to refuse to speak to whomever you want.
  • Can I have a lawyer present?

    Yes, you can. If however, they arrest you first, then don’t make a statement. Wait until you have a lawyer.
  • What if they want to me with me…should I call them back?

    Call and hire a lawyer first. Let the lawyer speak for you and coordinate whatever information the police are looking for. It protects you from making any incriminating statements.

What about my cell phone?

  • Can they search it?

    Only if you give them consent, or if they get a warrant. So do NOT consent to a search of your phone.

What about my son/daughter at school?

  • Do I have a right to be present if the police want to speak with them?

    Not necessarily. You should check your school’s policies. Generally, the police may question your son/daughter without your presence. It would be smart to educate your children not to speak with administrators and/or law enforcement if they are brought in for questioning without first having their parents present, who can then better assess whether this is a situation where you need a lawyer.
  • Can my son/daughter ask for a lawyer?

    Yes...and they should.
  • Can my son/daughter refuse to give consent to search their backpack/locker?

    Yes. Note that the school may have a policy about their security officers searching their lockers. Their backpacks, however, should be off-limits without consent or a warrant. BOTTOM LINE: We want to teach our children and others to respect and cooperate with law enforcement. Most officers are out there to protect and help us. Having said that, it is perfectly fine to know your rights and protect yourselves and your families/friends whenever faced with a situation that could cause trouble in the future.

Ready to Defend Your Rights & Protect Your Freedom

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