What Are Your Rights When a Police Officer Stops You?

Encounters with the police can be stressful for anyone. If you are stopped and questioned by the police on Long Island, you may need an attorney’s advice. If you are taken into police custody, call the offices of a Nassau County criminal defense attorney at your very first opportunity.

What are your rights when a police officer stops you and questions you? What is the legal and appropriate way for you to respond? What steps should you take if you are placed under arrest and charged with a crime? Keep reading for the answers that every New Yorker needs to know.

What is the Right to Remain Silent?

The right to remain silent emerged as a principle of English law in the 16th century in response to prosecutions by “Star Chamber” and “High Commission” tribunals. The right was formally established in 17th-century English law in reaction to the excesses of these royal inquisitions.

In the U.S., the right existed even before the Constitution was written. It was considered an important safeguard protecting citizens against the state, so it was included in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Over a hundred nations now recognize a right to remain silent.

Do You Have to Answer Questions Asked by Police Officers?

The answer to this question is absolutely, unequivocally no. You always have the constitutional right to remain silent if a police officer questions you. You do not have to answer a police officer’s questions, even if you are being detained or arrested or even if you are already in jail.

If you are driving and you are stopped in traffic by a police officer, you may show the officer your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance, but you do not have to answer any questions that a police officer may ask.

You can simply say to the officer, “I would prefer to exercise my right to remain silent,” and then say no more. If you have been placed under arrest, you can tell the police the same or “I would prefer not to answer any of your questions until my attorney can be present.”

What Should You Do if the Police Stop You?

A police officer may stop you and detain you briefly if that officer reasonably suspects that you have committed, are committing, or are about to commit a criminal act. In New York, there is no law that requires you to carry identification or to show your identification to a police officer.

However, if you are taken into police custody or if you are issued a summons by the police, and if you refuse to identify yourself to a police officer or to produce identification, the police may detain you until you can be accurately identified.

If a police officer stops and questions you, and if you feel like you aren’t free to drive or walk away, simply ask the officer if you are being detained. If you are not being detained, say nothing more, and then politely drive or walk off.

How Should You Handle Being Detained?

However, if the answer is yes and you are in fact being detained, understand that brief detentions are legally and routinely made by police officers, and most brief detentions do not trigger arrests or criminal charges.

If you are detained by the police and asked about a crime, be polite and show your identification, but don’t answer any questions. Everyone in this nation has the right to remain silent – always. That is your right whether or not your rights have been read and whether or not you are under arrest.

You can’t be forced to say anything to the police. If you believe you’ve been detained illegally, or if the police arrest you and charge you with a crime after detaining you, contact a Nassau County criminal defense lawyer at once for the legal services and advice that you will need.

What Else Should You Know About Your Right to Remain Silent?

What you say to a law enforcement officer is always important. Anything and everything you say may be used against you. If you are stopped by the police:

  1.  Keep your hands where the officer (or officers) can see them.
  2.  Do not attempt to flee.
  3.  Never touch a police officer in any way.
  4.  Do not resist the police, even if you are innocent of any crime.
  5.  If you are placed under arrest, immediately ask to contact your attorney.
  6.  Write down the officers’ patrol car numbers, badge numbers, and descriptions.

Whether you are at home, at work, driving, or walking on a sidewalk, the police may want to search your person, vehicle, or premises. If an officer claims to have a search warrant, ask to see it, and make sure the information on the warrant – especially your name and address – is correct.

If there is no search warrant and an officer asks to conduct a search, simply say, “I do not consent to this search.” This may or may not stop the officer. Do not resist if the police insist on conducting a search.

What if You Are Arrested?

Once you have been placed under arrest, if the police begin to interrogate you, they must read your “Miranda” rights, which include your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney. If the police fail to read your Miranda rights, that is the first thing you should tell your attorney.

If evidence against you is illegally uncovered by police officers, and if your Nassau County criminal defense attorney can prove that your rights were violated during an interrogation, search, or arrest, that evidence may not be used against you because of the “exclusionary rule.”

The exclusionary rule prevents a prosecutor from using evidence against you if your right to remain silent was violated to obtain that evidence. The rule applies to everyone in the United States: citizens, visitors, and immigrants (whether or not those immigrants are documented).

When Should You Seek an Attorney’s Help?

If you are charged with a crime on the basis of an illegal interrogation or detention, a Nassau County criminal defense lawyer will seek to have any charges against you reduced or dismissed.

Most police officers on Long Island conduct themselves professionally and legally, but if your rights are violated by the police anywhere in New York, you must discuss your legal rights and recourse – as quickly as possible – with a Long Island criminal defense attorney.