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Your rights when stopped by police

Individuals have constitutional and legal rights when law enforcement stops or questions them. However, a criminal defense may be jeopardized when a suspect does not firmly assert them.

Generally, a person has a right to remain silent and does not have to talk to the police or anyone else, even if a person believes they are unable to leave, under arrest, or in jail. However, judges can usually order a person to answer questions.

Staying quiet until an attorney is consulted is not a crime. Lying to law enforcement, however, is a serious criminal offense. Even if some questions were answered, a person can still assert their right to stay silent.

Individuals also have the right to speak to an attorney before answering questions, even if they are not notified of this right. Law enforcement must stop questioning when a person asks to speak to a lawyer. This holds true even if the individual does not have an attorney present or hired. Individuals should obtain the name, agency, and telephone number of any law enforcement officer who stops or visits them and give this information to their lawyer.

Some states, however, require individuals to provide their name to law enforcement if they are stopped and asked to provide their identity. The police can also require a driver to show their license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance during a stop for a traffic violation even though the driver does not have to answer questions.

A person may stay silent even if law enforcement threatens to get a subpoena. The directions on the subpoena about reporting to court must be followed. However, a person still has the right not to answer questions that may be used against them in a criminal case.

These rights must be respected by all law enforcement agencies, such as state or local police, federal agents from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security agencies such as immigration and Customs and Enforcement and the Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Non-citizens, however, may not possess all these rights.

A person should contact a defense attorney if stopped or questioned by law enforcement, or if he or she receives a grand jury subpoena. A person should always carry an attorney's business card and show it to law enforcement when they assert their right to speak to a lawyer. An attorney can help assure that these constitutional rights are protected, as well fight against a criminal conviction.


Source: American Civil Liberties Union, "What to do when encountering law enforcement-questioning," accessed Jan. 28, 2018

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Haller & Imbarlina, P.C.
20120 Route 19, Suite 208
Gigliotti Plaza
Cranberry Township, PA 16066

Phone: 724-935-0820
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Haller & Imbarlina, P.C.