Friday, February 11, 2011

Don't Talk to Cops!!!

This may come as a surprise to everyone, but I don't exactly have a lot of respect for authority. To me, respect is something that has to be earned; it is not something I give because of the uniform you wear or the position you hold. Therefore, if I get pulled over or a police officer wants to "ask me a few questions" I am pretty hesitant to say anything. Because as we all know from any episode of Law & Order, anything we say can and will be used against us in a court of law.

That isn't just a line that Dick Wolf created for his hit crime and justice series. What is typically referred to as "Miranda rights" or "Miranda warning" is actually something that all of us have always had since our Constitution was drafted. It is a stated reminder of one of our 5th Amendment rights, which reads:

No person... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...

So if we've always had the "right to remain silent," then why do cops tell us that upon arrest? Well, they didn't always have to tell the person they were arresting. The Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona established that if a suspect was not told they have the right to an attorney any admission or evidence gathered in interrogation was not admissible in court. Therefore, the police are now required to read the Miranda warning when taking someone into custody.

Some of you are probably saying, "Well, if I'm never taken into custody, I won't have to worry about anything." WRONG. The Miranda warning is only read to those in police custody. You can still easily waive your 5th Amendment rights in something as simple as a traffic stop, or as innocent as a neighborhood inquiry.

Imagine you get pulled over. Perhaps you were speeding, perhaps not. The cop asks you if you know how fast you were going. To be safe, you reply "maybe a few miles over the speed limit" assuming the police don't care about anything 1-5 mph above the limit. Well, whether you were speeding or not, you've just admitted to the officer that you were speeding and can be held accountable for that.

Scenario 2: some police officers are canvasing the neighborhood looking for a burglar. They say a witness spotted someone who looked like your roommate outside the burgled residence earlier that night. You roommate was out that night, although you have no idea where. Not answering is the best thing you can do. If you lie to cover for your roommate, you can be charged with obstruction of justice, which is essentially misleading a police investigation. However, obstruction of justice doesn't apply to NOT SAYING ANYTHING. If you stay silent, you are simply utilizing you 5th Amendment rights, even if you are not considered a suspect in the investigation. Because, as the warning states: anything you say can be used against you. You may unwittingly release some information that the police could use to charge you with something. So, better to lock up the trap and throw away the key.

If the cops really need information out of you, they can lawfully obtain a subpoena for you to appear in court. You may still exercise your 5th amendment rights even in court if you are afraid you may incriminate yourself in some manner.

The most important thing is to be aware of your rights and to not be afraid. Whether they are aware that they do so or not, police officers can intimidate people into giving up information that they otherwise wouldn't, simply because they wear a badge and carry a gun. You don't have to be an asshole (something I constantly have to bite my tongue about), but you also don't have to kowtow to authority.

I strongly encourage you to watch this video, entitled "Don't Talk To Police." It is about 50 minutes long, but it provides a very easy-to-understand and entertaining explanation of your 5th Amendment rights by a Regent University School of Law professor and surprisingly by a Virginia Beach police officer as well.

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