Understanding Your Rights When the Cops Show Up
“I was completely cooperative with the cops…Won’t that help me?”
“Don’t I have to answer their [cops] questions?”
“I told them [cops] the truth, how can they use that against me?”
These are three very common statements at my office. I hear them all the time and I have been hearing the same questions for decades. My answers are still the same, no, no and absolutely. Do you know your Miranda Rights? “Well, yes” is usually the answer. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court. We have heard it on t.v. for years. Most of us know them by heart even though many cops still need to carry a card in their pocket to get them right.
“Then what should I do when I get asked questions by the cops?” Again, my answers don’t change: Choice 1: Ask to speak with your lawyer. Choice 2: Say nothing and a very distant Choice 3: Tell the truth. We have a right to remain silent, but we do not have a right to lie.
“How can I just ignore the cops when they are right in front of me?” I admit that it is very difficult to ignore the direct questions of police officers. However, we must first evaluate the situation in its entirety. When police approach us on the street, we do NOT need to stop and talk to them unless we are ordered to do so. We do NOT need to open ours doors at home for the police and we have a right to exclude them from our property unless they have a search warrant to be there. By avoiding the contact in the beginning it makes it much easier to avoid answering questions by not ever being face to face with the police.
This is not to say that we can fail to stop when the cops try to pull us over on the road or we can refuse to be arrested or resist arrest when cops try and put handcuffs on us and take us to jail. What’s the difference? In many cases there is a very fine line between what the law calls a “consensual encounter” with law enforcement and the police ordering us to do something.
A recent case out of San Diego came down from the appellate court dealing with this very issue. The facts describe a police officer not attempting to arrest but simply asking questions to a minor student after a schoolyard fight. The juvenile court found the minor guilty of Penal Code Section 148 resisting or delaying a police officer. The appellate court overturned the conviction saying the boy did not have to answer the cops questions and was not ordered to stop, thus, he never committed the crime of delaying or resisting the officer. The appellate court went on to note that as soon as back up officers arrived, the boy was ordered to stop and did stop and comply with the commands of the police.
My warning to all is that you be careful out there. There is a very fine line between not answering questions from the cops and failing to comply with their “lawful orders”. The trick is to find out where that line is located and stay there. Once you ordered to stop by the cops, you must do that. You still don’t need to talk to them. At this point remember to be compliant. Hand over your identification, keep your hands on the steering wheel and don’t make any sudden movements. Tell the officer if you need to reach for your wallet or into your glove box. Make eye contact with the officer if possible. Listen to what he says. You may not like the way he speaks to you, but deal with it to keep yourself safe in the tense situation.
If you have questions about your rights, call me, Attorney Jeffrey Vallens Attorney at ( 818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340.