Being in a situation where the police stop you can be intimidating and stressful. Yet, knowing your rights under these circumstances is essential to protect yourself. The key is understanding the difference between being detained and arrested so that you can navigate the situation accordingly.
DETAINED VS. ARRESTED
If a police officer believes that you have committed a crime, they can detain you or arrest you, depending on the severity of the situation.
When a person is detained, a police officer has the legal authority to stop and temporarily hold them for questioning or investigating a potential crime. The officer can also ask for the name, address, age, and identification documents such as a driver’s license or passport. But the detainee can refuse to answer questions other than those related to identity.
Furthermore, during this time, the person has not been charged with any crimes, so officers cannot search them without permission or probable cause. The detainee can also leave as soon as their questioning is over, provided that their answers are satisfactory to the officers.
On the other hand, when law enforcement officials arrest someone, they are taken into custody and have been formally charged with a crime. This time they can be held for longer periods of time, and the police now have more authority to search them without permission. Also, the person being arrested must answer all questions asked of them in relation to the investigation.
Moreover, arrest primarily involves handcuffs and transport to jail or correctional facility — but not always. In some cases, an officer may issue an arrest citation instead of immediately taking the arrested person into custody. This citation serves as formal notification of the charges against them and requires them to appear in court on a given date instead of going to jail right away.
RIGHTS IN A DETENTION OR ARREST
Now that you understand the difference between being detained and arrested, it’s essential to know your rights in either case. Knowing how to respond to police contact and your rights during and after the interaction is critical for defending yourself and your freedom.
1. You have the right to know the reason for an arrest or detention.
Whether you are stopped on the street or pulled over in your car, a law enforcement officer must tell you the exact reason you’re detained or arrested before they start questioning you. In case the officer detains you without providing a reason, you have the right to ask them to provide a valid and legal justification and request to have that reason recorded.
2. You have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions.
No matter how pressing the police may seem, you do not need to answer any of the officer’s questions without legal representation present. If officers start asking questions that could potentially incriminate you, such as “Where were you last night?”, “Do you have any drugs in your car?” you can politely decline to answer and state that you will remain silent until your lawyer is present.
Remember, any statement you make can be used against you in a court of law, so it is best to avoid making statements that could be interpreted as an admission of guilt. Hence, you can protect yourself from self-incrimination or be arrested or charged with a crime based on your own statements.
3. You have the right to decline a search without a warrant.
When a law enforcement officer wants to search you or your belongings, they must have a proper warrant; otherwise, you can decline their request. Refusing an officer to enter without a proper warrant can protect you from unwarranted searches and seizures.
However, there are cases when officers may still search you without your permission if they reasonably suspect illegal activity or probable cause. Nevertheless, even if they have a warrant, it’s always a good idea to check its authenticity. If you find any discrepancies in the document, you have the right to ask questions and voice your concerns.
4. You have the right to contact a lawyer of your own choosing.
Even if you are arrested or detained, you still have the right to contact a lawyer of your own choosing. This is part of your constitutional right, and it should be respected.
It is important to remember that no matter what situation you find yourself in, law enforcement cannot compel you to answer any questions unless you have your lawyer present. You can assert this right anytime during the arrest, detention, or questioning. Therefore, you should contact a legal representative who can advise you and protect your rights throughout the process as soon as possible.
5. You have the right to a fair and speedy trial.
Lastly, you have the right to a fair and speedy trial. As soon as you are arrested, law enforcement must provide you with a court hearing within 48 hours — excluding weekends and holidays — so that you can get access to a lawyer and defend yourself.
Likewise, having the right to a fair and speedy trial also means that depending on the severity of your crime, you will be given a reasonable amount of time to prepare your defense and present it in court. This way, you will have the opportunity to explain your side of the story and prove that you are innocent.
As a citizen, it is vital that you’re aware of your basic rights to remain safe and protected from unjust or unlawful arrest or detention by law enforcement officials.
Yet, it’s noteworthy that you must be polite and cooperative during interaction with law enforcement officers yet firm in asserting your rights. So you can defend yourself from unnecessary criminal liability and ensure that justice is served properly.
Ultimately, keep in mind that the best way to protect your rights is to abide by the law and be mindful of your conduct to avoid any altercation with the police.
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