Top Ten Things to Know When Interacting with Law Enforcement

October 2, 2014

1. If you think you might need an attorney, you need an attorney; ask for one.  As a criminal attorney, I sometimes see cases where my client is speaking with police officers and begins to ask the officer whether she thinks he needs an attorney. The answer to this is simple: if you think you might need an attorney, then you DEFINITELY need an attorney.  Don’t rely upon the police to tell you otherwise, as they are motivated to close out their own cases with an arrest. And if you find yourself wondering if you need an attorney, DEFINITELY ask for one.

2. Know to say exactly “I want to speak with my lawyer.” When the police begin to question them, most people think, “Do I need a lawyer?”  Unfortunately, most never think to demand to speak to one. They either don’t ask for a lawyer, or will ask a police officer if she thinks they need an attorney.  Often, by the time we see clients, they have already given statements that the police may try to use against them. Some people erroneously assert their right to counsel by stating “I think I might need a lawyer.”  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly stated that this is a vague request for an attorney, and as such, the police are not required to stop questioning them.  In order to invoke your Fifth Amendment right to counsel, you must state so with certainty. If you find yourself being questioned by police, remember to say exactly “I want to speak with my lawyer.”  It is only with these words that the police will discontinue their interrogation, and you can ensure that your rights are being protected.

3. Do not sign consent forms.  The police might give you a consent form. Do not sign it unless your attorney has reviewed it.  There are cases in which the client is alleged to have signed paperwork allowing the police to search their car, their home, or their belongings. In some cases, the client has even agreed to provide his/her DNA to the police. Unfortunately, if you sign that paperwork to allow the search, you may be giving up significant rights that only your attorney can protect. You wouldn’t sign a contract without an attorney reviewing it! So why would it be any difference when your life and liberty are on the line?

4. Do not waive your Miranda rights.  Most of us have heard this…. “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…” but do we truly know what it means? Or why they say it? One of the most common problems are clients who have waived Miranda rights in order to “cooperate” with the police. Most of us want to cooperate with the police; but few realize that they may be simultaneously ruining their own defense case if (in a worst case scenario) they are eventually arrested. In fact, we frequently see that the large majority of criminal prosecutions come about solely as a result of a statement provided by the “suspect.”  When you are involved in the interaction with the police officers, it can be difficult to tell if you are the suspect.  This is why attorneys always advise our clients that when questioned about something by the police, do not waive your Miranda rights.  Callyour lawyer before you say anything. If you need to cooperate, we can make sure that your statement is conveyed, without it resulting in incriminating evidence being used against you.

5. It’s ok to say “No” to Law Enforcement.  When a police officer pulls you over or speaks to you on the street, it can be a scary situation, particularly for somebody who has never had any trouble with the law before.  Most people wrongly believe that if they do whatever the officer wants, they can just get out of the situation unscathed. Sadly, this isn’t necessarily so.  Attorneys frequently see clients who are asked to “just talk for a second” or to allow an officer to “look around for a minute,” and they become our clients because they were arrested after they did what the police officer requested. When confronted with this situation, understand that you have the right to say “No.” Many times, by doing so, you are not only protecting your rights as enshrined in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, but you are also protecting your rights if you are eventually charged with a crime.

6. You only have 10 days (and you can drive during that period) to appeal a DUI License Suspension. Most people know that if they are arrested for a DUI, and if they either (a) blew above a .08, or (b) refused to blow, their driver’s license will be suspended. But did you know that this can be appealed? Under the existing law in Florida, once your license has been suspended as a result of the above, you have ten days within which to file an appeal with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. During that ten day period, you may lawfully drive using the ticket as your “license.”  If you choose to appeal within that ten day window, you will later (a) get a temporary driving permit, and (b) get a free peak at the State’s evidence. During that hearing, the officers may be required to testify as to their basis for making the DUI arrest. However, it is important to understand that appealing the license suspension is not right in every situation. You should consult with a criminal attorney to ensure that you are advised on what is best under your circumstances.

7. Don’t surrender without a bondsman.  If you are evercontacted by law enforcement personnel because there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest, the first thing you should do (after contacting an attorney, of course) is to reach out to a bondsman. A bondsman is the individual who can secure your bond with the court, which would allow you to be released if you are ever arrested. By reaching out to a bondsman ‘before’ you surrender, you can (a) secure the bond more quickly, (b) find out the details of the warrant more quickly, and (c) bond out of jail quickly. The typical arrestee is in jail in excess of one and a half days before being released on bond. However, if you can secure your bond before being taken into custody, you can ensure that you will be released as soon as the bond clears, usually in about half the time.

8. Don’t admit to possession.  There are countless cases in which drugs (or firearms) are found near several individuals. If you (or anybody) admits to ownership of those items, you (or the admitting party) will almost certainly be arrested and prosecuted. However, you may be able to save yourself (or at least the criminal case that will be filed against you) by keeping your mouth shut. Police officers typically try to ask every party present who the drugs (or other evidence) belongs to. If nobody admits to it, and the evidence was not on your person, the state may be forced to drop the charges because they cannot prove constructive possession. As such, attorneys advise all clients to keep quiet if asked to admit possession.

9. ALWAYS speak to your attorney first.  This is one of the most important things to remember. When confronting any criminal or quasi-criminal situation, it is imperative that you speak with your attorney and advise them of your entire situation as soon as possible. By hiring an attorney early in the criminal process, your attorney might be able to secure an early dismissal, or even avoid you being arrested altogether. This is because when your criminal attorney gets involved early on, he can talk to witnesses while their memory is fresh, obtain video or audio evidence that may soon disappear (in as short as ten to thirty days), or even explain case law to the prosecuting attorney who is deciding on whether or not to file charges. By delaying this decision, you may lose track of witnesses or find that evidence which once existed, is no longer available because it is automatically destroyed after a certain period of time (i.e., 911 tapes, which are typically kept for no more than 30 days). As such, it is to your benefit to hire an attorney as soon as possible.

10. Tell your attorney EVERYTHING.  Equally important to speaking to your attorney first, is that you feel free to discuss everything with your attorney. There have been countless cases where clients do not disclose all of the facts of a case (whether because of embarrassment, shame, delusion, etc.), and the attorney may be caught off guard when the prosecutor or police present certain evidence that contradicts everything the attorney has done in the case so far. When this happens, it may ruin your case, your chances of success, and even your chance of avoiding jail. Your attorney can only help you if you tell him everything. So remember to be honest with your attorney, so he can protect all of your rights.