A police officer detains you on the street, starts asking you questions and demanding you produce identification, registration, licenses and other documents to satisfy official curiosity about you. You might suspect you have certain rights to decline to provide this information but you don’t want to be wrong and end up on the receiving end of the ‘use of force spectrum’ that today’s public safety officers are trained to employ to insure ‘officer safety’. It is our foremost advice that you do not provide any officer an excuse to use force on you. Do not enter an aggressive posture, do not use profanity and do not resist any physical force used upon you, no matter how upsetting or unjustified it may be. Your safety and survival is the first objective of any interaction with police. Our second piece of advice is to remember that, even before you are arrested,
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT. You are not obliged to tell the police who you are, where you are going, where you are coming from, or what you are doing in a public area. Before the police are entitled to that information, they must suspect you of committing a crime. Most, if not all, citizens who are later arrested and charged with a crime end up finding that their own statements to police constitute the initial, and occasionally only, evidence against them. Every single day, I review police reports where the evidence for guilt comes almost exclusively from the statements of my client, the accused. There is simply no reason for people to talk to the police unless they are a victim of a crime and need their help to apprehend the offender. You might be thinking, “But if I am not a criminal why shouldn’t I talk to the police, even when I am not a crime victim? Police are there to serve the public and help law-abiding citizens like me, right?” Your thoughts are correct, if our public servants were angels and not humans. Police officers are trained to think that their job is the apprehension of criminals and that every person on the street could represent a threat to their life. The days of the neighborhood beat cop who will leave kids to be kids are long gone. More importantly, we have had full-time legislatures, both in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., concocting every more lengthy criminal codes making almost any action taken in public potentially illegal. Since IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IS NO DEFENSE, you cannot assume you are ‘law-abiding’ just because you don’t know whether your activity is illegal. Fortunately, the courts have established that you do have a right to help you in this situation, if you remember to exercise it:
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASK WHAT CRIME YOU ARE SUSPECTED OF COMMITTING. If the officer can’t articulate an answer to this question, then you should be released from any detention and allowed to move on. You do not have to answer any questions prior to receiving an answer to this question. (Some exceptions apply, for example, if you are driving, the police have the right to see your license and proof of insurance to determine whether or not you are legally entitled to operate a motor vehicle.) If the officer tells you what crime you are suspected of committing, then you do have the obligation to identify yourself, produce any licenses or permits that may be relevant to the situation…and nothing else.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE TO PERFORM ANY PHYSICAL TESTS OR ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING. So many people believe that they have to comply with the orders of a police officer and yet there is simply no legal basis to justify this belief. Police have the power to make orders for public safety (‘Everybody leave this area, there is an armed gunman inside that house.’), to detain a suspected criminal (‘Put your hands behind your back while I hand-cuff you and search you for weapons.’) and to insure their own safety when there is an apparent threat (‘Drop your weapon.’). They do not have the power to compel you to perform feats of balance, memory or dexterity. Your participation in any of these is ‘voluntary’ at law, meaning you can say no. To maintain a republic of free citizens, it is critical that the citizenry exercise their rights. Some are doing so. Here is a great example, shown in a 3 minute video and analyzed, phrase-by-phrase, for its legal accuracy in the state of Maine. The rules for behavior apply everywhere:
1. Be calm.
2. Be patient and remember, police aren’t used to citizens standing up for their rights.
3. Be silent whenever possible.
4. Insist on being treated as a law-abiding citizen and do not use physical force to vindicate your rights.
If you do these things, and are later charged with a crime, your attorney will have the best possible case to win your freedom and vindicate your rights. The Bromund Law Group specializes in representing those charged with crimes in California, especially in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. If you need help with this sort of situation, please do not hesitate to call us at 805.650.1100.
This blog offers general insight and opinions and is not intended to address any specific legal case or situation. Please consult a competent professional before relying upon this blog for your specific situations.